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Sewer payment modes mulled in Sunset Beach

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

SUNSET BEACH—Bid-letting for local sewer should be ready to open early next year, a Brunswick County official told town council last week.

Construction will take about two years for the town-wide project on the mainland and island, with completion by the end of 2011, county public utilities director Jerry Pierce said at the July 23 meeting.

As lines are completed, he said they would go ahead and connect them into the system.

“So not everybody is going to have to wait till 2011 for service,” Pierce said. “We’re going to go ahead and get service to people as soon as we can.”

He and Ann Hardy, director of fiscal operations for Brunswick County, outlined payment options that could be stretched between three to 10 annual installments.

In response to questions from council, they said attorneys for the town and county could possibly work together to extend the period to 30 years.

As for the cost, no firm figures are in place but the two cited examples to give a rough idea.

‘FAIREST METHOD’

Town councilman Len Steiner asked whether the possibility of a longer-term bond had been researched.

“What we tried to do was come up with the fairest method of assessing,” Pierce said.

Hardy said the area to be serviced is organized as a special assessment district, which limits the installment period to 10 years via general statute.

She said if a different method is used, there could be longer-term financing of 25 to 30 years but it would create issues if such a change is made.

With 10-year financing under a special assessment district, “you’d be looking at a range of $1,300 for 10 years,” she said.

The county has already extended more than $1.4 million on the project, she said. “So [with] another entity, there would be an issue of how that’s going to be assumed.”

Over a 30-year period, she said it would cost $55 to $60 per month for every parcel.

“One of the arguments has been that spreading it over that long length of time would be an easier pill to swallow for most people,” Steiner said.

Pierce said a tax levy provides a means to make people pay.

“But if you were to use a revenue bond approach and try to assess every parcel, what means do you have to guarantee the bondholders that you’re going to get the money back?” he said. “So I think that’s an issue that is very difficult to overcome.”

Councilman Lou DeVita said he didn’t understand why that would pose a greater risk.

“You assess the people like you would assess the taxes,” he said. “And if they pay the bill, fine. If they don’t pay the bill, you’ve got recourse in real property.”

“With an assessment, we have the real estate,” Hardy said. “We have the right to foreclose. Without the assessment district, there are no other issues regarding collection.”

$33 MILLION SYSTEM

Mayor Ronald Klein said assuming a sizable number of people are willing to get their assessment and pay it off, “less than the number of bonds that would have to be issued, where do we get down to where it’s administratively unfeasible to go through a whole bond issue for a very small group of people?”

Pierce said the county has to borrow the money to pay contractors.

“We’re talking about probably $33 million,” he said. “We’re going to have to borrow the money; there’s going to be some interest during construction. Certainly, the more people that pay, the lower the financing would possibly be.”

Hardy added once contracts are let, the county would have to borrow enough money, with interest.

“We have to make assumptions of how many people will pay in that first non-financing period,” she said, asking for help from council in determining that number.

“We’ve got to have a method that we can all agree upon so that the county’s going to be able to have enough money to pay that debt when it comes due,” she said.

Councilman Ron Watts said another frequent question is “are we pursuing as many grants as we possibly can?”

Pierce said they have met with grants consultant Skip Vereen regarding sewer for both Sunset Beach and Calabash.

“I hate to say it, but his recommendation for Sunset Beach was that while he would be glad to prepare a grant application for us, he thought the chances of success were slim to none,” he said, citing the community’s financial means overall.

RESIDENT QUESTIONS

About eight residents attended the session, including Bob Seader, who asked about the possibility of obtaining federal grant money, perhaps by asking the Corps of Engineers to do so for the waterway area.

Pierce responded that from his experience, “I can say that federal grants are few and far between and are generally political in nature.”

Resident Jim Padgett asked about average sewer hook-up costs in Holden Beach.

Pierce said some were as low as $300, while others were “extraordinarily expensive”—up to several thousand dollars—because of issues like septic tanks being underneath concrete slabs.

Padgett asked why it’s costing so much.

Pierce said each assessment would be a proportionate share of the total project cost, which will not be known until it’s finished.

“What the county is trying to do is select the fairest method of assessing the cost for all the property owners in the area receiving service,” he reiterated. “Everybody’s going to be treated the same. The island people and mainland people are going to be treated the same.”

“It looks like to me that the county’s trying to stiff everybody for this project for the future expansion of houses and everything,” Padgett said.

Sunset Beach Town Administrator Gary Parker responded there are some simple things to keep in mind.

“One is total cost—$33 million roughly,” he said. “If there are 3,300 parcels, then that’s $10,000 per parcel. But as the county officials have shared with us today, the county commissioners at a future date will decide how the assessment will be determined. Will it be per parcel? Will it be a combination of per-parcel and front footage and square footage? So your actual cost will vary off that $10,000 figure, but all of the system cost of that $33 million has to be borne by us here in Sunset Beach.”

Resident Carol Scott suggested consideration be given to waiving electrical hook-up fees that will be incurred.

“I think the homeowners would appreciate it,” she said. “They’re paying so much money. Don’t make them pay that, too.”

Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or at llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.