County vs roads

Friday, April 28, 2017

A piece of old business stirred up a fight between roads and water in the county.

Commission Chairman Mike Waggoner reintroduced a March resolution to raise the county’s adequate facilities tax.

The adequate facilities tax is levied on new construction in order of offset the costs of the infrastructure expansion required to serve it.

Currently, the county’s rate stands at 70 cents per square foot for residential construction and 30 cents per square foot for commercial construction.

The funds raised go to the county Board of Public Utilities, which uses the money to pay debt service from prior water line extensions. Any collections over $300,000 would go into the general fund, although collections have never reached that mark.

The prospect of increasing the rate has been discussed at the commission and at various committees for months.

The Marshall County Planning Commission unanimously recommended increasing the rate by 30 cents for both residential and commercial construction at their February meeting..

At the March commission meeting, Commissioner Joseph Warner introduced a resolution that would increase only the residential rate and would divide any collections 50/50 between Public Utilities and the County Highway Department.

Commissioners Mickey King and Tony Beyer, who represent the commission on the Board of Public Utilities, had spoken against taking funds from Public Utilities during consideration of the resolution.

After discussion at that meeting, the commission voted to defer action until the Tennessee General Assembly acted upon Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed gas tax increase, since the county would receive additional road funds if the measure passed.

A modified version of the Governor’s bill passed last week, mandating a gradual increase in the gas tax of four to six cents per gallon of gasoline and a 10 cent per gallon increase in the cost of diesel over a three-year period.

The state estimates that the increase in road funds for the county, once the full amount is assessed in three years, will exceed $600,000.

With the original resolution brought back for consideration, Beyer and King more clearly stated the possible impact of taking funds from Public Utilities.

“One of the issues we are going to have to face in the next year or two, possibly sooner, is enlarging the water lines that go north,” said Beyer.

Beyer said that enlarging the lines running to the north to allow more water to be pumped to that part of the county and installing another water tank in the area was a project estimated at roughly $3 million.

“To cut the money going to Public Utilities, if that’s what we do,” Beyer said, “we are going to have to cease giving water taps because we don’t have adequate flow.”

Decreasing the funds from the adequate facilities tax would force the system to pull money from operating funds in order to service already existing debt, lessening the amount to run more lines.

“It would be real unfortunate if we had to sit and say we can’t extend any more water lines,” said Beyer.

The county’s agreement with Lewisburg Water expires in June and negotiations are currently underway for an extension.

The main issue for the county water system is a guarantee of daily supply from Lewisburg’s system, which sells water to the county utility.

Commissioners asked if Public Utilities had explored the possibility of sourcing water from another area utility.

Beyer said that they would examine that depending on the outcome of discussions with Lewisburg Water.

The debate expanded to consider what the future of the various county water utilities might look like.

Waggoner asked if Public Utilities had considered a purchase of the Chapel Hill water system or if the idea of a merger between the three separate water systems into one unified county water authority had been considered.

The idea has been floated in the past but has never gained any real traction.

Despite the added revenue from the state and Beyer and King’s statements regarding the future of water supply, some commissioners pushed forward with splitting the funds with the Highway Department.

Ultimately, after several options were presented and some confusion over what was being proposed, the commissioners arrived at a resolution raising both the residential and commercial rates by 30 cents and splitting the proceeds, 70 percent to Public Utilities and 30 percent to the Highway Department.

Commissioner Toby Adams opposed the new resolution.

“We haven’t given the public any alert on what’s going on,” he said.

Adams had opposed the resolution in March on the same grounds.

A motion was made to suspend the rules in order to vote on the new resolution, since it had not appeared on the agenda for the meeting.

That vote failed, needing to be unanimous, with commissioners either opposed or wishing more time to study the details.

The resolution will appear on the agenda for the May commission meeting to be considered again. Commissioners also approved an increase in the compensation for members of the Election Commission from $55 per meeting to $65 per meeting.

Speaking with Administrator of Elections Andrew Robertson, he said that the rate had been unchanged since at least 2007 according to paperwork in his office.

Editor’s note: The MC Tribune published Reporter Scott Pearson’s article “Infrastructure needs clash at Commission,” March 29, 2017, wherein the potential increase in adequate facilities tax was discussed.