The Foxfire Village Long Range Planning Committee believes it is time for action. Earlier this year, the committee recommended that the Village Council should consider merging its water system with the larger Moore County water system.
Moore County Public Works Director Randy Gould fleshed out the proposal in a meeting with the Council in April. The County would acquire most of the assets of the Foxfire Water System, as well as its outstanding debt, and Foxfire customers would become Moore County customers.
During the Council's Tuesday, May 14 regular meeting, Councilman Mick McCue recommended action.
“I think we need to move forward," McCue said. "For myself, I am convinced this is the way to go. I am more than happy have a public hearing for the citizens’ input and listen to people and let them convince me that it is not. We know that Moore County is doing an excellent job of planning for the future water needs, thirty to forty years out. And I want to be on board with it.”
Time is of Essence
“I think we need to set the public hearing sooner than later and get moving on this,” McCue concluded.
Mayor George Erickson suggested taking things a little slower, noting that a lot of residents are on vacation during the month of July.
“My response is: we can do that, and maybe that’s the appropriate way to go,” Erickson said. "I would like to see some kind of proposal that I can look at and some kind of agreement with the county. Randy [Gould] can initiate that and put something together.”
Councilman Steve Durham said that Gould had already provided much of that information in the proposal he made in April. Durham also noted that Gould was amenable to listening to the Village’s input and working out the details.
Councilwoman Leslie Frusco acknowledged that Gould had provided a tremendous amount of information, but was not satisfied with parts of the proposal.
“I realize, Mick [McCue], you are very much in favor," Frusco said. "But I still think we need to have a forum — put this out there and let residents come and discuss this — an open meeting where he [Gould] could field some of the technical questions. If we decide to further move forward on this after listening to residents, then we need to sit down and talk as a Council.”
Durham expressed his dissatisfaction with the pace of the Council's decision making.
“The council has not had a serious conversation, based on information, concerning the long range planning committee’s recommendation," he said. "Are we in favor in terms of pursuing it with any real interest? If not, then why would we go to all the trouble to hold a public hearing? We can get maybe six people here. And all of them will be either for or against it. They are not going to sway my decision. If 900 residents came forward, that would influence my decision.”
Erickson brought up the fifteen questions on the proposed transfer of the system that he had presented at a work session in February. During that meeting, each question was addressed by Durham and McCue.
“I know that there are number of things that will come up. Like who is going to own the town property underneath the water tower? What are we going to do with the yard debris area?” Erickson asked.
“I don’t think we need to know all of the answers before we have a discussion,' Durham replied. "We can continue to study. If you think it’s a bad idea, say no now. I don’t want to invite Randy [Gould] back for an open session where we have more give and take, if we are not all on same page. If you say: no matter what anyone says, there is no way that I will vote for this, then I would like to know it."
“I think we should be a little more deliberate as we go forward," Durham continued. "We need to decide among ourselves if we think Moore County is the best way to go, and then we can go forward. It is the recommendation of the long range committee and the best interest of Foxfire Village and its future water source.”
Conception to Reality
“If you are asking conceptually, then I think 'conceptually,' yes," Frusco said. "But when I bring up something, you say that’s a detail. Whether or not it is financially feasible is a different story. Conceptually, I think it’s the right thing to do.”
“I don’t like the proposal that was originally made,” Frusco added.
“What about that draft proposal that we shared was problematic?” Durham asked.
Frusco said the Council had originally been told that the Village’s water rates would stay the same for twenty years. Gould had later clarified that rates would stay the same, unless the County rates went up, in which case they would be raised proportionally.
Frusco also questioned the transparency of the proposal.
“Our water rates are higher than Moore County’s, and a portion of the water rates are to pay for that line coming down [that is, a new water main connecting the County and Village water systems]. How much is the water line going to cost?" Frusco asked. "How much of the resident’s water bill is going to go to that line? I think it’s important to have something structured in case a developer comes in and buys 150 acres of land with highway frontage — that they [the developer] will have some obligation to [pay down] that debt, ultimately.”
Durham agreed that there was some initial confusion and miscommunication with Gould concerning how water rates would be impacted by the merger.
“The day before our meeting," Durham explained, "he [Gould] called me and said, 'I made a mistake when I told you rates would stay the same for 20 years. That was incorrect.' Our rates would stay the same until the next rate change.
"I don’t believe Randy [Gould] in any way attempted to deceive us,” Durham said to Frusco. “You kind of implied that when you first started. The rate, of course, is going to pay some of the note [borrowed to pay for the new water main]. I am missing your note about a lack of transparency.”
Durham and Frusco dominated the debate, leaving little room for other Council members to join in.
“If you just say you are going to pay x amount of dollars for water usage . . . Somewhere that is going to pay off some of the debt," Frusco said. "We don’t’ know how much of the water rate is going to be used for debt service.”
“Why don’t we look at this differently?" she suggested: "Pay the same rates and figure out what it is going to cost to bring that water line down."
Durham replied that at the April meeting Gould had said it would cost slightly above $1 million to lay the line.
McCue interjected: “He [Gould] was very amendable to that. Those are details we are going to have to work out if we think we need to hook up to Moore County for the future.”
What’s the rate?
After doing some some quick math, Frusco said the debt service on a $1 million water main would require Foxfire rates only $5 to $9 higher than standard Moore County rates. She then made the same recommendation she had made in April — that Village residents should pay standard rates, plus a separate surcharge for the cost of laying the water line.
McCue once again reminded the board that Gould had been amendable to that suggestion. He then recommended setting a public hearing.
Durham agreed it was time to hear from the public. “I am confident as a Council we can figure out what to do with the debris pile,” Durham said. We have to go forward with this.
It Only Takes Three
“I am in agreement with Leslie we would be remiss not to pursue the concept," Mayor Erickson said. "But there is a whole bunch of stuff in those fifteen questions I asked that I wanted answered. We don’t have to have 5-0 vote to do this. We only need 3,” Erickson said.
Erickson then reminded the Council of other split votes in the past. “We weren’t unanimous," he said. "Once we got through it, then we went back to work to do what work we had to do.”
Durham said he had hoped the Council might be in agreement on such an important issue.
“We need to move forward," Frusco said. "It’s a big deal. Let’s hear from the public. If only five people show up then shame on them.”
In the Wake of Catastrophe
After much back and forth, Councilman Vic Koos took the floor.
“My concern is if we don’t go with Moore County and something catastrophic happens to the water system in the future," he said. "And if we haven’t gone with Moore County, then I don’t want to have to say, 'Gosh, we had that chance back then.' What if something happens, catastrophic? It might never happen. We had the chance to go with Moore County and we didn’t do it. That’s where I am coming from.”
The lack of public input also concerned Koos. “It is somewhat depressing have this meeting, and only two or three genuinely interested people show up, and we have 902 in the village,” Koos said. “I know what the criticism of my outlook will be. But you can’t look at it that way. I don’t want to take a chance. Right now I would be in favor of it. Have the meeting and convince me I am wrong.”
The Council agreed that Frusco, Durham, and any others who wanted to would meet with Gould in July. A public hearing would be planned for August.