Council considers drainage projects

Published 7:02 pm Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Contributing Editor

Washington’s City Council, during a budget meeting Monday, decided to pursue spending nearly $4 million on stormwater drainage projects in the Jack’s Creek basin.
To pay for the projects, the city is looking at using $4 million of the nearly $6 million in Economic Recovery Zone Bond capacity awarded to the city by the N.C. Department of Commerce. Of the $4 million the city is looking at spending, $42,000 would be used to replace the roof at the city’s headquarters fire station at the corner of North Market and Fifth streets.
Voting for the measure were council members Ed Moultrie, William Pitt, Gil Davis and Bobby Roberson, who made the motion to pursue issuing the bonds. Councilman Doug Mercer cast the lone dissenting vote. The vote does not obligate the city to issue bonds or spend any money on the projects.
Economic Recovery Zone Bonds are another tool that local governments may use to enhance their economic-development efforts. Issuance of such bonds does not require a referendum. Economic Recovery Zone Bonds are a form of Build America Bonds. The city was allocated $4,475,000 in bond capacity for stormwater drainage improvements.
About nine years ago, an engineering study identified about $12 million in projects that would help alleviate the city’s drainage problem in the Jack’s Creek basin.
To help pay the yearly debt associated with issuing $4 million in bonds, the city would use about $305,000 from its stormwater fund each year until the debt was paid. The $305,000 is part of the revenues generated each year by stormwater fees the city imposed in 2002.
In previous years, most of those revenues were used to pay the wages of three employees who performed stormwater-related work. In the upcoming fiscal year, the council plans to charge those wages to the city’s general-fund budget, meaning the money the stormwater fund spent on those wages is available for other use such as stormwater drainage projects.
Mercer pointed out that when the city imposed the stormwater fees it said it would use revenues from those fees to address stormwater drainage problems. Those revenues should have been set aside each year for that purpose instead of being used to pay for the three workers’ wages, he said.
However, Mercer, who believes drainage work is needed in the city, is opposed to issuing bonds without city taxpayers voting on the matter. He’s worried about the city taking on more debt.
Other council members believe it’s time the city addressed the drainage issues, even if it means issuing bonds to pay for stormwater drainage projects.
“We have to do something,” Davis said.
“Let’s fix it,” Moultrie said.
Pitt said the city should keep the promise it made when it imposed the stormwater fees. That promise, Pitt said, was to use revenue from the fees to fix drainage problems.
For additional coverage of the council’s meeting, see future editions.