Rhodhiss: We’re not broke

Apr. 09, 2014 @ 06:25 AM

Contrary to rumors, the Town of Rhodhiss is not going bankrupt and the town board of commissioners is not considering disbanding the town, the town manager said at the board's monthly meeting Tuesday.

However, the town's reserve fund is quickly drying up due to problems with water and sewer costs. All other areas of the budget are healthy and normal, Town Manager Barbara Harmon said.

“All of our neighbors, Granite Falls, Sawmills, Valdese, they’ve called and asked about [the town being broke], and I’ve assured them that no, that’s not the case here,” Harmon said.

Marty Wilson of the N.C. Rural Water Association, which helps small towns with their waste and water systems, explained to the dozen or so residents in attendance how the water and sewer fund works.

“Rates should reflect the true cost of providing the service,” Wilson said in his presentation. 

While the town council recently raised water and sewer rates 30 percent because of costs running higher than revenues, the higher rates still will not raise enough to match the total projected 2014-15 costs of running the water and sewer system, which is nearly $331,000. Projected revenue comes in at $276,566, leaving about $53,000 left to be paid by the town's reserve fund.

If the water and sewer fund does not generate enough revenue to pay its bill, the state Local Government Commission can come in and raise the rate until it does, Wilson said.

Commissioner Dean Icenhour said, “I don’t think people realize that there’s really not a choice. We either do it or it’s going to get done. You can’t ignore things and expect them to get better. I pay the same water rates. I don’t like it either.”

Wilson said these problems are happening statewide, “from Manteo to Murphy.” Water and sewer rates are going up in many small towns, not just Rhodhiss.

“People don’t want to make themselves look bad by raising the water rates, but that’s not the point. The point is to provide the service and fix your problems, or the LGC will do it for us,” Icenhour said.

Harmon also commented that she and town administrative assistant Diane Eckard are not retiring due to any of the town’s financial problems. While there are rumors that she and Eckard were let go or forced to step down, both rumors are false. Instead, Harmon wants to spend time for her family after working for Rhodhiss since 2007 and in the school system for over 30 years. The timing is merely coincidental.

During the period for public comment, residents showed opposite opinions on the town, its leaders and the raise in rates.

Former commissioner Barbara Kirby said she did not understand why the poor water and sewer pipes had not been fixed long before Rhodhiss found itself in this situation.

“The board, I’m sorry, has done a poor job of getting this organized. We’ve got a town two miles long, and you’ve got people that don’t have good lines. Luckily, I don’t have water and sewer. Good luck, people,” Kirby said.

On the other hand, Debbie Phillips stood up and asked the board to consider presenting Harmon with a certificate of appreciation for her hard work as town manager.

“I’d like to see the town do something for her,” Phillips said.