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Prison population helping with county/town utilities deficits

About 120 offenders are being housed currently at the Tyrrell Prison Work Farm north of Columbia, according to John Bull with the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety. The prison has a current maximum operational capacity of 180 offenders due to staff shortages in the prison system, he added.

This re-opening of the prison has provided some relief to Columbia and Tyrrell County. The town treats and disposes of wastewater from the prison, and the county furnishes water to the Snell Road facility.

Both units of government have experienced significant declines in utilities revenues since the prison was emptied of offenders shortly before this past Christmas.

Gov. Roy Cooper, prompted by State Treasurer Dale Folwell, sent $209,901 to Tyrrell County and $113,603 to Columbia to enable the local governments to make the annual bond payments on $5.4 million they borrowed in 2011 to upgrade utilities in order to serve the prison, the N.C. League of Municipalities reported.

Two bills introduced by Sen. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan), aimed at wiping out the debts entirely, failed to pass in the most recent session of the General Assembly. They would have cleared away $3.4 million in county revenue bonds and $2 million in similar bonds issued by Columbia, the League stated.

Columbia raised its sewer rates by more than 20% July 1 to offset the revenue shortfall that resulted when the prison closed. A year earlier the town had also lost its biggest water/sewer customer when Whitecap Linen Service shut the doors of its Columbia plant. A rate study recommended Columbia raise its rates 20% each year for five years to ensure that revenues equal expenditures in the Water/Sewer Fund.