Cost of future sewer still unknown in Calabash

-A A +A
By Laura Lewis, Reporter

CALABASH— “How much is it going to cost?” is still the prevailing question floating around Calabash regarding Brunswick County’s future sewer plan.

It cropped up again last week at a specially called commissioners workshop to discuss methods of assessment for the proposed project.

Mayor Anthony Clemmons outlined six possible methods of assessment the county could use involving front footage, acreage, a per-lot basis or a combination of any of these.

“It’s like a salad bowl, and they’re asking the town for a recommendation at this time,” Clemmons said at the March 26 session.

Town commissioner Cecelia Herman expressed skepticism regarding the county’s plan to charge up front for grinders and then assess other property owners who have not yet connected to the system after the first year.

“It sounds like double-dipping to me,” she said, adding, “Mr. Mayor, with all due respect, I don’t think we’re ready to set even the type of assessment because there’s just too many questions at this point.”

Clemmons said assessment “has very little to do with the total cost.”

The estimated overall cost for the new system in Calabash is $7 million.

Commissioner John Melahn said it has a whole lot to do with the cost to individual property owners.

“If they’re not going to assess for at least three years, why are they pushing us to determine how to assess?” Herman said. “What is the rush?”

Clemmons said the method of assessment ties in with bidding the project.

Using an overhead projector, Melahn referred to a graph showing assessments could range from $1,000-$35,000 depending on lot frontage. A corner lot could cost double a neighboring lot fronting only one portion of a road, as much as $30,000, while a pie-shaped lot would be in the lower range.

“If the citizens see what you’ve got up there now, that’d scare ’em to death,” commissioner Bill Dixon said.

“Wait till somebody gets hit with a sewer bill,” Melahn said.

Herman said when town commissioners approved a sewer agreement with the county in April 2006, “we were told it would be $5,500 per lot,” she said. “It’s in the minutes. Now it’s a whole different ball game. I would rather see what this project is actually going to cost before we do anything further on it.”

“You’ve got 18 pages of fine print,” Melahn said. “It’s scary—it really is.”

Commissioner Emily DiStasio pointed out, “every month, you’ve got to pay the availability fee.”

Clemmons said residents would be assessed equally whether they’re on the gravity or grinder-pump system.

Clemmons said it’s his understanding “the cost here is almost irrelevant when you’re looking at determining a method of assessment. So we will get the bids, then the board will be ready to go back to the table to review this.”

He also reiterated that possible grant and federal stimulus money might help offset costs.

Regarding Calabash Acres and Pine Bur Acres neighborhoods, whose residents have indicated they don’t want to be part of the sewer plan, Clemmons said that is still “open-ended.”

“They’ve not closed the door in either subdivision,” he said. “We need to send out a bona fide survey with some details.”

Residents, he added, should not be pressured into signing anything.

“Once we get numbers, we’ll do an official assessment,” he said.

“Then we also could talk about a petition that could possibly give a 30-year payout attached to the land and not the owner,” Herman said. “But we really need to know the number.”