Columbia water/sewer fund in serious trouble

Published 1:48 pm Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Columbia Board of Aldermen in early April resolved to comply with Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 124 regarding suspension of water or sewer services during COVID-19.

There will be no cutoff of water or services for nonpayment of charges, the board declared.

And there will be no penalties or interest attached to a user’s bill because payments are in arrears.

Link the newest policy, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, with the loss of sewer revenue since the Tyrrell Prison Work Farm moved all offenders elsewhere last December, and the town’s Water & Sewer Fund is in real trouble.

Business closures related to the health crisis are also further depressing water/sewer charges.

Rhett White, town manager, is slated to present his proposed 2021 budget to the aldermen on May 4, and he has predicted a $220,000 shortfall from the prison closure alone.

The 2020 water/sewer budget is $727,384. On April 1, after 75% of the year had passed, revenues stood at 60% of annual anticipation. Meanwhile, White and the Water Department staff had held expenses during that period to 53% of annual totals.

State law prohibits the aldermen from switching money from General Fund reserves to the ailing Water & Sewer Fund to balance revenues with expenses. At the same, state law requires the aldermen to adopt a balanced budget.

There is no relief for towns in the recent $2.2 trillion COVID-19 federal aid package, White said.

Unless the General Assembly provides a bailout, which town officials keep on asking for, there’s every prospect that Columbia water/sewer users will face a huge increase in rates come July 1.