Local Government Commission Signals Robersonville May Regain Fiscal Autonomy
(Raleigh, N.C.) The town of Robersonville (Martin County) has addressed financial and operational shortcomings and could regain control of its finances in the near future, members of the Local Government Commission (LGC) were told at their monthly meeting Tuesday, Aug. 1. Meanwhile, the town of Eureka (Wayne County) is struggling with sewer issues that further threaten the town's already strained viability.
The LGC assumed control of the finances and assets of both towns under statutory authority - Robersonville in October 2020, and Eureka in 2019.
Robersonville is now compiling monthly financial reports for its board, conducting bank reconciliations and using new software for utility and property tax billing, property tax collection has increased, staff has been trained, audits are being caught up and an experienced, professional manager is in place.
Eureka is facing infrastructure problems that are contributing to its financial woes. Its sewer flow meter needs replacement so that the town can determine how much wastewater it sends under contract to Fremont for treatment. The Eureka system also has significant inflow and infiltration issues, which drive up the amount, and cost, of treatment, which exceeds what customers are being billed, creating an imbalance in cost and revenues. Fremont plans to raise its rates in 2024, further exacerbating the situation because the town is running out of other sources of money to pay the shortfall, and raising rates would make bills difficult if not impossible for many of the 109 Eureka customers. LGC staff is exploring short-term and long-term solutions.
The LGC, chaired by State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, CPA, is staffed by the Department of State Treasurer (DST). The commission has a statutory duty to approve most debt issued by units of local government and public authorities in the state. The commission examines whether the amount of money that units borrow is adequate and reasonable for proposed projects and confirms the governmental units can reasonably afford to repay the debt. It also monitors the financial well-being of more than 1,100 local government units.
Among other items on the agenda, the town of Mint Hill (Mecklenburg and Union counties) received approval for $19.5 million in financing to build a public services facility. It would house a new fire station, a public works facility, a fuel depot and a police department storage facility. A portion of the money also will be used for a sidewalk project. The work will be done through an installment purchase, which allows the town to make periodic payments instead of paying everything up front. No tax hike is expected.
Rutherford County was granted approval of an installment purchase totaling $15 million to acquire, build and equip a 22,500-square-foot transportation and maintenance facility, and to repurpose the gymnasium of the former RS Middle School. No tax increase is anticipated.
Pender County does not have sufficient capability to meet peak water demands in the Scott's Hill Water and Sewer District. LGC members voted in favor of an $11.2 million State Revolving Fund loan to correct the inadequacy. The project will include a 300,000-gallon water storage facility, new transmission lines, and water wells to provide additional capacity during emergency situations.
Johnston County was given a green light for $8.3 million to build a new wastewater treatment facility to replace aging facilities adjacent to the county landfill. The project will increase the county's overall treatment capacity. The money will come through an increase in a State Revolving Fund loan originally approved by the LGC in 2021 for $79 million. Construction bids higher than expected and cost overruns made the increase necessary.
Edenton (Chowan County) was cleared to obtain nearly $6 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture revenue bonds for water and sewer projects. The current wastewater treatment plant is not able to meet system needs, and the new work will address the situation.
The city of Reidsville (Rockingham County) also won LGC approval for a State Revolving Fund loan request, for nearly $5.2 million. The money will be used to replace the headworks system that diverts and channels water and equipment at the Reidsville Wastewater Treatment Plant that is below the 100-year flood elevation. Hurricane and other storms have negatively impacted the system, which has failed during the weather events, causing the headworks and channels to overflow with raw sewage.
The town of Selma (Johnston County) will purchase the one-story Interstate Outdoor building for town office space following LGC approval on a $525,000 installment purchase. Town Hall is at capacity, and its second floor is not accessible to some residents because there is no elevator. The new building will provide easier access and room to expand. No tax increase is anticipated.
LGC members signed off on a $125,000 installment purchase project for the town of Warrenton (Warren County). The money will be used to pave a parcel of land for a public parking lot. The lot will add to the town's redevelopment potential.
In other business, LGC members approved requests from Durham County to permanently finance $50 million in general obligation bonds that had been financed in the short-term market for construction, and designated 14 local government units as distressed under Viable Utility Reserve legislation. This designation requires the units to conduct an asset assessment and rate study, participate in a training and educational program, and develop an action plan. It also is a necessary step towards potential funding to improve the viability of water and wastewater systems. Those units are McDowell and Northampton counties, and the towns of Benson (Johnston County), Denton (Davidson County), Elizabethtown (Bladen County), Grover (Cleveland County), Harmony (Iredell County), Hobgood (Halifax County), Magnolia (Duplin County), Parkton (Robeson County), Polkton (Anson County), Princeton (Johnston County), Stantonsburg (Wilson County) and Stoneville (Rockingham County).
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