Columbia aldermen close town docks, suspend utilities penalties

Published 12:13 pm Wednesday, April 15, 2020

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The Columbia Board of Aldermen on April 6 closed the town docks on Scuppernong River to all incoming vessels as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. The prohibition extends to the toilet and showers nearby. Town Manager Rhett White said Elizabeth City had taken similar action earlier. Sheriff Kevin Sawyer agreed that the action should be taken.

The board also authorized town administration to comply with Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders banning water and sewer service cutoffs for nonpayment of bills.

The likely downturn in utilities revenues as a result of the order further worsens the town’s predicament overĀ  future payment of its water/sewer bond debt.

Coupled with the loss of Whitecap Linen Service in December 2018 and the shutdown of the Tyrrell Prison Work Farm last December — both major utilities users — the loss of revenue from coronavirus’ impact on the town’s economy will make the Water/Sewer Fund budgeting process “a killer,” White moaned.

“I anticipate a large sewer service rate increase in the FY 2021 budget,” White recently told Sharon Edmundson, fiscal management section director for the Department of State Treasurer. He predicted a $220,000 revenue shortfall, and that before the coronavirus measures went into effect.

A spokesman for Dominion Energy, which also cannot cut off service for nonpayment, advises customers to pay what they can so the balance due will be less when the crisis is over.

Tuesday morning the following notice was posted on the town’s website: “Checks and money orders will be accepted for payment of water and tax bills. Payments should be mailed to the Town of Columbia, PO Box 361, Columbia, NC 27925, or at a drop box located inside the front door of the Columbia Municipal Building, 103 Main Street. Please include your water or tax account number on your check. Cash will not be accepted until further notice.”

Aldermen and others in the conference room practiced social distancing, and the public was able to hear the board’s deliberations via telephone conferencing. All aldermen were present.

An electric power outage that resulted from a passing thunderstorm began four minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start. The outage called for emergency lights and also made it necessary to use Mayor James Cahoon’s cell phone for the conference call. Power was restored at 8:18 p.m.