Princeville Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates made a public plea to the Edgecombe County Commissioners Monday night to not take the town's water and sewer system.
Everette-Oates told the board, if the county takes over, rates would increase which would cause hardships for citizens.
Princeville residents currently pay $21.12 for 4,000 gallons of water and $41.07 for 4,000 gallons of water used for sewer. The county's rates are $45 for water and $45 for sewer.
"I'm standing on the behalf of the citizens of the town of Princeville citizens because I know that the citizens already have problems trying to pay their water bills," Everette-Oates said. "If (the county) takes over there will be a tremendous increase. We don't want that to happen. I know that Edgecombe County Commissioners have the best interest for all the citizens of Edgecobme County. I pray that you all don't take over the water system or the sewer system because it will cause a great increase to the town of Princeville citizens. They have already suffered enough."
John D. Merrit, Jr., vice president of Envirolink, attended the meeting and backed up Everette-Oates' claim. Merrit said his analysis is based on information he retrieved from Edgecombe County website and also from the UNC School of Government. He said the average monthly water and sewer bill in Princeville is $62 compared to $90 in the county.
Princeville buys its water from Tarboro and has a contract with Envirolink for the upkeep of the system.
County Manager Lorenzo Carmon, explained that a water and sewer system must be able to sustain itself by obtaining funds for water usage, capital outlay and improvements and operational cost.
"The biggest expense that Princeville has is from the Town of Tarboro for water," Carmon said. "If they are not charging enough to take care of other things, then their rates may be too low."
Edgecombe County Commissioner Charlie Harrell pointed out the board was not prepared to make a decision whether or not to take over the system Monday night or any time in the near future.
The board did unanimously approved a resolution to apply for a $34,125 matching grant to be used to evaluate the operating condition and cost of Princeville's water and sewer system. The project will consist of a preliminary engineering report and GPS/GIS mapping of the water and sewer system. Carmon said LGC expects to participate by matching the grant.
Everette-Oates' plea to keep the town water and sewer came one month after state deputy treasurer T. Vance Holloman asked the county to look into taking over Princeville's system. Hollman's made the request because of the town's financial condition that is deemed catastrophic and also the town's poor collection rate for its water and sewer accounts.
Aiding the town's condition was perhaps a policy that passed by a 3-2 vote in April 2010 that allowed citizens to make partial payments on their bill and continue with service Some citizens apparently took advantage of the policy and bills escalated up to $3,000. In June, 200 citizens were placed on the cutoff list for delinquent payement. When LGC took over the town's finances on July 30, the state agency eliminated the policy.
Everette-Oates has said publicly that the town was working on solving the problem before LGC took over. She said Hollman's meeting with the county came to a surprise to her.
"We were very surprised when we saw the paper last month when LGC came to you all about taking over the water and sewer," she told the board. "We were very surprised because they did not communicate that with us."
Princeville Commissioner Isabelle Andrews, who is also the mayor pro tem, spoke on behalf of the citizens.
"When we lose services for the town of Princeville, we lose a lot from the operation of the town," she said. "I know that we need some help, but I hope that there will be another solution to the problem other than just take the service from our town.
"Edgecombe County has undertaken a massive project to provide water and sewer throughout the county. As of August, the county had 4,344 customers while Princeville has 750.
"Holliman and the staff of LGC recommended to you all to take over the water and sewer system. We think that is not a good idea. My understanding (is) that they brought it to you all without knowing how much it was going to cost."