Reprinted from the Carteret County News-Times
BEAUFORT — The Carteret County Board of Commissioners narrowly voted Monday evening to accept an offer from Carolina Water Service of North Carolina to purchase the county-owned water system for $9.5 million.
The board voted 4-3 to accept the offer, with commissioners Mark Mansfield, Robin Comer, Jimmy Farrington and Ed Wheatly in favor and commissioners Chris Chadwick, Bob Cavanaugh and Chuck Shinn opposed.
A contract with Carolina Water, a private, for-profit company, has not been finalized, though county attorney Rob Wheatly and assistant manager Gene Foxworth said a draft contract has already been prepared. The deal must go through several more steps, including receiving approval from the North Carolina Utilities Commission, before it is finalized.
The decision followed a roughly hour-long discussion among the board members, including a previous motion to retain the county-owned system that failed 3-4. The board also voted unanimously earlier in the meeting to lower water rates by 25%.
A rate increase of 95% took effect at the beginning of the new fiscal year, July 1, for the county water system, which serves around 1,200 customers mostly along the Highway 101 corridor. Commissioners voted in June to raise the rates while tabling a decision on whether to accept the offer from Carolina Water to purchase the county system.
Commissioners tabled again in July, and Monday’s regular meeting was the first time since then the matter appeared on the board’s agenda.
Carol Traxler, who lives off Highway 101 near Beaufort and is a county water customer, said during public comment her water bill had risen significantly since the increase took effect.
Commissioners said they’d received numerous calls and emails from others complaining about the rate increase, as well, which factored into the move to lower rates slightly.
Chadwick said he was in favor of exploring other options for the water system and waiting to see if the new rate adjustment had a positive impact.
On the other hand, Comer and others who voted in favor of selling said they felt rates would be lower and service would be more efficient under a private-run system.
Following the decision to accept the offer, the board passed a motion 7-0 adopting a resolution that would allow the county to pursue potential grant funds to help pay for the water system should the deal “fall through.”
Patrick Kelly, one of the primary organizers of a group of residents opposed to the sale of the water system, said he felt “totally blindsided” and disappointed in the decision.
This story is provided courtesy of the Carteret County News-Times, a twice weekly newspaper published in Morehead City. Coastal Review partners with the News-Times to provide our readers with news of the North Carolina coast.