BOE, wa­ter author­ity set­tle fee dis­pute

The Covington News - - Front page - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

A long-last­ing dis­pute over sewer tap fees at the new New­ton High School, which is un­der con­struc­tion on Crow­ell Road, was fi­nally set­tled this week be­tween the New­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion and New­ton County Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Author­ity.

In or­der to avoid fur­ther at­tor­ney’s fees or lit­i­ga­tion, the author­ity agreed to give the school board a $36,000 credit, which will be ap­plied to fu­ture wa­ter and sewer bill pay­ments.

The agree­ment was ap­proved and signed by the author­ity at its Wed­nes­day meet­ing; author­ity at­tor­ney Liz Pope said the agree­ment had al­ready been ap­proved by the board of ed­u­ca­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Pope, the main dis­agree­ment stemmed from dif­fer­ing views about much the school board should have to pay for sewer tap fees. Wa­ter and sewer tap fees are paid when a per­son or busi­ness wants to con­nect to a wa­ter or sewer sys­tem for fu­ture ser­vice.

Pope said the school’s ca­pac­ity, as stated by the ar­chi­tect, is 2,500 students, but the cur­rent New­ton High School only has around 1,500 students and of­fi­cials don’t ex­pect it to reach ca­pac­ity for many years.

The school board wanted to pay the sewer tap fee for the 1,500-stu­dent level, and then make sub­se­quent pay­ments if needed as ca­pac­ity grew, ac­cord­ing to author­ity Chair­man Jimmy French, but French said the

sewer tap fees have al­ways been based on ca­pac­ity, not cur­rent oc­cu­pancy.

The school board paid the sewer tap fee, which was around $247,000, French said, but the board protested hav­ing to pay that fee in an Oct. 4 let­ter.

French said in a fol­low-up in­ter­view that he had never heard of an in­stance where the fee would be cal­cu­lated dif­fer­ently.

“It is what it is. These are set stan­dards, in­dus­try stan­dards, based on the draw­ings their en­gi­neers and ar­chi­tects go by,” French said in the in­ter­view.

He used the ex­am­ple of a builder con­struct­ing a four-bed­room house. The sewer tap fee will be de­ter­mined based on the size and ca­pac­ity of the home, and wouldn’t change if a sin­gle widow was liv­ing in the home or a fam­ily of eight.

French noted that the school sys­tem did not dis­pute the fees for ei­ther the New­ton Col­lege and Ca­reer Academy or Flint Hill El­e­men­tary School, though he noted that the author­ity had given the school board a siz­able dis­count on the Flint Hill fees “of the good­ness of the our heart.”

School of­fi­cials could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment Satur­day.

Ac­cord­ing to the agree­ment be­tween the two en­ti­ties, nei­ther side “ad­mits any­thing and main­tains that its re­spec­tive po­si­tions were and are true, valid and founded in ap­pli­ca­ble law...” How­ever, the school board “does hereby with­draw its protest let­ter of Oct. 4, 2011.”

Though it is not known how much each side spent on at­tor­ney’s fees, both the author­ity and school board brought in out­side coun­sel in ad­di­tion to their reg­u­lar at­tor­neys.

“I hate that lawyer fees have been paid for this, when it wasn’t nec­es­sary,” French said.

The wa­ter tap fee, which was not dis­puted was in the tens of thou­sands, French said. In ad­di­tion, the author­ity had to put in about $3 mil­lion worth of in­fra­struc­ture to ex­tend wa­ter and sewer ser­vice to the school prop­erty.

Bax­ter agree­ment close; cus­tomers bad debt an is­sue

In other news, author­ity Engi­neer­ing Di­rec­tor Scott Em­mons said the author­ity was close to reach­ing an agree­ment with med­i­cal in­dus­try Bax­ter In­ter­na­tional to pro­vide wa­ter and sewer ser­vice to the in­dus­try’s huge com­plex that is be­ing con­structed in Stan­ton Springs In­dus­trial Park.

The author­ity will have to build a new waste­water treat­ment plant to ac­com­mo­date Bax­ter’s op­er­a­tions, which plan to be­gin by 2018.

Em­mons said an ex­ten­sion of the wa­ter lines along Cook Road will be bid out soon; the project is a joint ef­fort by the author­ity and Ox­ford.

Also, the author­ity con­tin­ues to see some new com­mer­cial busi­ness at the new Wal­mart de­vel­op­ment at the in­ter­sec­tion of Brown Bridge and Salem roads as that prop­erty’s out­parcels are be­ing de­vel­oped.

The author­ity also ap­proved spend­ing $50,000 to work on fur­ther­ing the 2050 Plan, which seeks to con­trol growth, cre­at­ing denser, ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties while pro­tect­ing ru­ral land. The money will go to­ward a joint ef­fort with the county, and likely Cov­ing­ton, to cre­ate or im­prove de­vel­op­ment, land­scap­ing and wa­ter­shed pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tions.

While the county will need to even­tu­ally take the lead to de­velop its or­di­nances, author­ity Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Mike Hop­kins said he be­lieved the author­ity would ben­e­fit from be­ing in­volved in those dis­cus­sions, be­cause the bet­ter planned growth is the more the author­ity is able to pre­dict and limit costs to build in­fra­struc­ture. Author­ity board mem­ber Keith El­lis said it takes years to put in in­fra­struc­ture, so bet­ter plan­ning could help re­duce de­lays to de­vel­op­ment in des­ig­nated ar­eas.

The county is expected to con­trib­ute $50,000.

The author­ity also had a dis­cus­sion about how to deal with debt racked up by cus­tomers who fre­quently miss pay­ing some bills. A few in­stances were brought up of peo­ple who were so far be­hind in pay­ments that they may not ever be able to pay off their bills us­ing a pay­ment plan.

One op­tion would be tak­ing a lump sum for part of the debt and then writ­ing the rest of it off. How­ever, the board de­cided not to take any of­fi­cial ac­tion, but rather let Hop­kins deal with in­di­vid­ual cases as he saw fit.

The author­ity had 646 cut­offs in Au­gust, Hop­kins said.

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