Friday, April 12, 2024

Brunswick County and Shallotte water systems expected to merge

The Brunswick County Board of Commissioners will consider approving its comprehensive land use plan Monday. (Courtesy Brunswick County)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — A move nearly two years in the making was rubber stamped Monday evening.

Brunswick County will absorb the Town of Shallotte’s water system after a study indicated its feasibility. The town first requested the merger assessment in September 2021, and earlier this month town leadership told the county it intends to go through with it.

READ MORE: Brunswick commissioners sign off on land use plan amid push for public pool

The study found the merger would reduce the town’s burden of operating and maintaining the system by placing it in the countywide water empire, which has been absorbing small town systems for years. In the last four years alone, it has merged with Navassa and Southwest’s systems in similar agreements, as it continues to build its centralized capacity.

The Shallotte system will add 56 miles of water mains, 684 valves and 336 fire hydrants to the county network.

The town and the county do not need to make new pipe connections or software changes, but Shallotte’s meter equipment does need to be replaced before it is compatible. On Monday the county commissioners approved $2 million to go toward it.

  • Replacement of 200 3/4“ meters with meter boxes: $160,800
  • Replacement of 46 1” meters boxes: $44,850
  • Replacement of 1,840 3/4“ with new meters: $678.960
  • Replacement of 414 1” meters: $186,300
  • Replacement of 950 3/4“ irrigation meters with meter boxes: $763,800
  • Replacement of 100 1” irrigation meters with meter boxes: $97,500

However, the town is agreeing to transfer its equipment, balance and remaining water funds. Currently, the fund contains $2.9 million, and the town will hand over about $140,000 in other equipment, such as vehicles. 

The agreement to be delivered to Shallotte is dated March 7, but Brunswick County spokesperson Meagan Kacsak told Port City Daily the town board must approve the agreement before work can begin.

Commissioner Marty Cooke, a Shallotte resident, asked what will change for customers. The answer is little. They will be billed once per month instead of every other month, which administration said helps customers identify water leaks more quickly. The county will also take over billing services from the town.

Shallotte Town Manager Mimi Gaither told PCD the town has always purchased its drinking water from the county wholesale. During the previous fiscal year, it bought 187 million gallons and its budget for this fiscal year’s purchases is $1 million. Costs will remain the same, as the town set its price to match the county’s in anticipation of the merger.

There will be major changes to how the system is run and funded from behind the scenes. The town will maintain its sewer billing service and keep two employees to handle that effort. Of the three remaining, Gaither said one employee will retire at the end of February and the two remaining are free to transfer to the county.

County Manager Steve Stone said only one employee has opted to transfer so far. The county will need five additional employees, total, to handle the additional workload.

The town also has two vacancies in its public service department it has not filled in anticipation of the merger. The town will not spend any money on the deal outside of transferring the entire program to the county.

Brunswick expects to pay $195,000 worth of new salaries, $17,372 for new equipment for employees and $1,690 for fuel and cell phone reimbursements. 

Another less predictable cost is future upgrades and maintenance on the system.

Despite the new revenue stream and nearly $3 million enterprise fund to offset the meter costs, Shallotte’s system carries long-term expenses for the county.

There is an estimated total of $17 million worth of upgrade and maintenance projects connected to the town’s system,planned through 2029. Those projects include adding new loops and transmission lines, as well as a $6.8-million water tower addition in 2024.

The county said “considerable” asbestos concrete pipe, lead and copper service line replacements will need to be made. Though the cost and extent of the issues has not been assessed yet.

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