NAVASSA — Following months of negotiations, Brunswick County has acquired Navassa’s utility system, customers, and outstanding debt.
The merger agreement comes after years of private disputes between the two governments, with Navassa previously refuting the county’s assessment of the debts owed by the town.
Though the disagreement never became a lawsuit, attorneys got involved, and eventually, the Local Government Commission formally weighed in, siding with Brunswick County.
“We recognize the hard work our staff and partners at the Town of Navassa put in to bring this opportunity to fruition, and we thank them for their continuous service to their community,” County Manager Randell Woodruff said in a county press release. “This partnership not only supports the residents of Navassa, but also the purpose and vision of the commissioners’ strategic goal to seek infrastructure development/expansion opportunities for the benefit of all our utility customers.”
Navassa is the second small utility system the county has absorbed this year; On Jan.1, the county acquired the City of Northwest’s utility systems.
Thursday, Mayor Eulis Willis said the decision is not one he agrees with but he said it may help the town in the long run. With expenses adding up and anticipated new customers, Council figured the county may be better positioned to handle growth.
“Council decided they didn’t want the headache. The benefits weren’t worth the effort,” Willis said. “We figured the bigger scale could hound the problems better even though the smaller scale may be more in tune with the people.”
Though the town is growing, Willis said one of the town’s biggest missions is to look after its long-term residents. With a regionalized system, costs for customers are expected to decrease. “This ain’t a mom and pop neighborhood anymore, much to my regret,” Willis said. “Navassa’s gotta get prepared for change.”
Brunswick County assumed ownership of Navassa’s utility systems July 1 after approving the agreement June 15, gaining 325 water and 321 sewer customers.
The county will pay to make improvements to the town’s system to bring it up to its standards; the total cost of needed improvements has not yet been shared. It will also pay for Navassa’s debts, including a $26,500 USDA Loan for water line extension and a $440,700 state environmental loan for sewer.
Navassa will also be released from all debt owed to the county (the source of the previous disagreement) from the 2012 expansion of the Northeast Brunswick Regional Wastewater plant. The county tallies this debt at $509,951.
With the sewer plant requiring yet another expansion, town leaders were resistant to signing on to even more debt last year, with $10.6 million assigned to the small town.
Now that Brunswick County has acquired the town’s system, the county will be responsible for coming up with the funding it had assigned to Navassa to expand the plant — a much-needed effort. In September 2019, the Department of Environmental Quality lifted its three-month new line extension moratorium at the plant once the county acquired all necessary permits to expand. The plant had exceeded permitted flows in 2018.
Though Navassa never agreed to pay for its assigned 21% portion to expand the plant, the county was able to move forward with financing and permitting the project last year.