Rhodhiss residents upset with rate hikes

Mar. 26, 2014 @ 08:52 AM

Rhodhiss resident Ed Logan sat before the Rhodhiss Town Board of Commissioners and asked, “Why be a town?”

At a public hearing Tuesday on a proposal to apply for a Community Development Block Grant to help pay for $3.1 million in needed repairs to water and sewer services, Logan and a handful of other residents looked with despair at the town board members. Instead of the grant, they were more interested in talking about the recent 30 percent rise in water and sewer rates — which is likely to be only the start if the town doesn’t get an awful lot of grant money. Town officials have said another 30 percent increase might be needed.

“What if people can’t afford that?” asked Pat Logan. “There’s probably people hurting to pay their water bill right now.”

When board member Jim Icenhour said the board would be happy to hear any suggestions for other solutions, Ed Logan said maybe it was time to say goodbye to the Town of Rhodhiss.

“I’ve lived here 40 years, and I see no advantage to have a Town of Rhodhiss,” he said. “We get our water from Granite Falls or Icard, on this side. Our sewer goes to Burke County. We vote in Granite Falls. Caldwell County collects our taxes. Why are we a town?”

Former town commissioner Robert Turner agreed. “We ain’t got nothing. We’ve got no revenue. Let’s get realistic about this. If this doesn’t work, you’re going to shoot up 30 percent more? Come on, man, shut the town down!”

Pat Logan said that if residents were forced to turn off their water because they cannot afford it, the town would fall into a disaster of health and environmental hazards. She suggested that the residents are “too poor and too few” to bring the town back from the hole it finds itself in.

“We cannot support these kinds of expenses,” Pat Logan said.

Board members said that rates were raised only as a last resort. Each year the state Local Government Commissions mails Rhodhiss “an ugly letter,” said Mayor Rick Justice, because the town has been using other funds to pay off its water and sewer expenses instead of raising rates to match the expenses. Justice, who described the water problem as “eating our budget alive,” went on record to say that if the town gets enough grant money to fix the problems and rates can be lowered, he will vote to lower them.

“If we get to balance this out, yes. I’ll say that right now,” Justice said.

However, the rates must rise now, or else “the town will go bankrupt,” he said.

Sherry Long, who is community development director for the Western Piedmont Council of Governments and helps local governments in the region through the grant application process, said she thinks Rhodhiss has “better than a 50/50 chance” of getting a grant. Long said that the project will “rate high” because of the hardships the town has endured with its water and sewer systems. 

But if Rhodhiss receives a grant, town officials will have to choose whether to apply it entire to either water or sewer repairs, not both. Long said that working on sewer first would “stop the biggest bleeding” for Rhodhiss because ground water and storm water infiltrating the sewer pipes costs the town extra in sewage treatment costs. The board then could apply in the fall for a grant to apply toward water repairs.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, town officials announced that because the town had not yet done a require survey of residents’ incomes, it cannot apply for a grant next month, as expected. Instead Rhodhiss will not apply until the second round, with applications due May 1.