Carteret County water district infrastructure

This map shows the boundaries of Carteret County's county-owned water system, which serves approximately 1,200 customers. The County Board of Commissioners decided Feb. 15 to sell the system to Aqua North Carolina, a private-owned company. (Carteret County map) 

BEAUFORT — Carteret County commissioners agreed to a $7 million offer from Aqua North Carolina to purchase the county-owned and maintained water system serving around 1,200 customers.

The Carteret County Board of Commissioners met Feb. 15 to consider offers from two privately-owned water companies to purchase the system. Aqua N.C. was the high bidder over Carolina Water System’s offer of $4.9 million. Since the board accepted an offer, the county will proceed with an upset bid process, giving other companies a 10-day window to submit competing offers.

“I want to point out this is not a quick process if y’all decide to move forward with it, we understand it would be nine to 12 months,” Assistant County Manager Gene Foxworth told commissioners Monday. “There’s a lot of approval from the (N.C.) Utilities Commission and other due diligence that has to take place in this process.

“We’ll also need, if you decide to move forward, the authorization of the commissioners to go out and get an additional appraisal on the system,” he continued.

According to county maps, the water system serves residents of Highway 101 from near the Beaufort bypass to Harlowe, as well as North River

In May 2020, the county board accepted the results of a grant-funded study looking into the feasibility of merging the county’s water system with the town of Beaufort’s. The consultants on the study recommended Beaufort take ownership and operation of the county system in order to reduce costs to the county.

“This all started back in 2019, (when) we received a grant from the state to study merging our water system with the town of Beaufort’s, there was a push for regionalization of these facilities for efficiency,” Mr. Foxworth stated. “…We met with the town of Beaufort and they were not interested in acquiring our system. Subsequently, two private water companies approached us about acquiring our system.”

Beaufort Town Manager John Day said the town turned down the offer for two main reasons.

“One reason the town declined the offer was due to the proximity of many of the customers in relation to the town limits and the areas outside the town limits where the town has sewer customers – it’s a considerable distance,” he told the News-Times in an email. “Another was the numbers – we didn’t feel like they were strong enough. As I recall the only reason the system would break even was if two employees were laid off and the county continued to pay for the debt.”

According to the feasibility study, which was conducted by Draper Aden Associates, the county’s water system is valued at around $12.3 million, and the county has outstanding water debt totaling more than $2 million. The study also found the system’s operating expenses have exceeded revenues in recent years, with the deficit being subsidized by income generated by a special water tax district.

If Beaufort had agreed to the merger, the consultants recommended the county continue paying debt service on the water system until the debt is retired. Also, the study determined the merged system would only require one additional full-time and one part-time county employee to operate, compared to the three county employees currently staffed by the water system.

However, as Mr. Day indicated, Beaufort officials did not agree to the terms and turned down the merger, leading the county to look into other options.

In a letter addressed to County Manager Tommy Burns and dated Feb. 15, Aqua N.C. said if the county were to accept its offer, it would offer jobs to the three current employees. The company also said the move would save the county around $100,000 annually and would allow officials to eliminate the special 5.5-cent water district tax that’s currently in place to help fund the system.

Aqua N.C. did not specify if it would enact a rate increase for existing water customers, but noted customers would be able to participate in the regulated utility hearing process for future rate increases, which are subject to the review and approval of the NCUC.

 

Reporter's note: This article was updated Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, at 11 a.m. to include more information. 

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

(11) comments

David Collins

Having experienced numerous problems and a snail like response by the owner of a water system in Chapel Hill many years ago , all I can say is look out folks . Because it is a business , not a service , job one is profits . Who you gonna call when you have unresolved problems ? When the rates soar , what recourse will you have and you can be cut off in a flash for non-payment . Feel sorry for you .

quicksand

Private companies are in business to make money-so expect your bill to rise considerably. The county was already losing money operating it.....

David Collins

The county , which is government , is not supposed to make money when offering services . Just charge enough to cover costs but then government employees are not known for working effectively . Ref. DOT , 4 or 5 folks with two trucks watching one guy with a shovel . Pretty sure we all have seen this numerous times .

No , this is about shedding responsibility . What will be next ? Privatize the fire department or police department . How about the inspections department ?

mpjeep

Not a good idea at all to sell an essential resource to a publicly-traded, for-profit, corporation.

Carteret County officials just want to take the headache off their plate and any price increases that Will occur. And citizens still may be responsible for upgrading the water infrastructure.

Shouldn’t this be an item up for citizen Vote?

DeadBolt

Speaking for Beaufort , well, on my behalf, Beaufort charges about 5 times more for the ... water in the sewage then for the tap. Maybe, we could all bring a bucket of pleasure to their doorsteps, which, actually belong to the taxpayers in Bft, and show them how pleased everyone is with their public servitude ? This is an old racket. Just imagine how we could not get along without these bean bags! Hmmmmmm[whistling] #disolvelocalgovornment

(Edited by staff.)

David Collins

One would think it would be the proper thing to do , mp , but the decision making processes in city hall are questionable at best these days . Do not know if this is a done deal but those affected should be up at arms and raising holy .... Not just phone calls or e-mails to disinterested assistants but in your face confrontations .

Just like Maxine Watters insisted on .

(Edited by staff.)

slang

Are any of the commissioners watching the news out of Texas this week? Privatizing utilities is an awful idea.

Big Fat Drunk Republican

You all sound like socialist.

In all seriousness, terrible idea.

Sincerely,

Bogue Banks Water Customer

David Collins

Aqua NC is a publicly traded company “ ticker WTR “ that owns utilities in many states . It is most definitely a for profit corporation and profit it does .

Bogue Banks is a not for profit company like Jones Onslow EMC .

Big difference here BFDR .

Beaufort is in a world of it’s own just like the fictitious town of Portlandia so anything is possible . That being the case , trying to compare it to other towns is laughable .

Municipalities were formed for a reason and if they are going to levy taxes they need to stay true to their intended purpose . They also bear the burden of liability and need to constantly remain aware of that . Just like anybody else .

beachmami13

I love the comparison! The ppl in charge at Beaufort keep making changes. Will the citizens benefit from the sale? Hmm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGdQZW8W55A

dc

Like a lot of govt bitting off more than they can chew then who pays? Some folks are still remote enough to not get water or fiber. So you have a well with filtered water and drink bottled water preferably BPA-free and copper for landline and Internet or go cell and satellite.

Welcome to the discussion.

As a privately owned web site, we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that contain spam, advertising, vulgarity, threats of violence, racism, anti-Semitism, or personal/abusive/condescending attacks on other users or goading them. The same applies to trolling, the use of multiple aliases, or just generally being a jerk. Enforcement of this policy is at the sole discretion of the site administrators and repeat offenders may be blocked or permanently banned without warning.