BEAUFORT — After a back-and-forth bidding period that stretched several months, the Carteret County Board of Commissioners will decide Monday whether to accept or reject an offer from a private company to purchase the county’s publically owned and maintained water system serving around 1,200 customers for $9.5 million.
The board will hold its regular monthly meeting beginning at 6 p.m. in the commissioners’ boardroom of the administration complex in Beaufort at 302 Court House Square. According to the meeting agenda, which can be found online at carteretcountync.gov/agendacenter, commissioners will consider the offer from Carolina Water Service of North Carolina to purchase the county’s water system for $9.5 million.
Charlotte-based Carolina Water Service of N.C. was the high bidder in a bidding war with Aqua North Carolina, a subsidiary of Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based Aqua America, which made an initial offer of $7 million in February. The two companies submitted several escalating bids over the course of a few months, culminating in Carolina Water Service’s final, unanswered bid of $9.5 million submitted in early May.
Monday, the board of commissioners will decide either to accept the high offer or reject all offers. If commissioners accept Carolina Water Service’s high bid, the deal must go through a required due diligence period and approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission, among other steps, before it is finalized.
There is no public hearing associated with the offer, but a general public comment period directly precedes the matter on the agenda. Representatives from Carteret County for Public Water, a grassroots group formed in opposition to the proposed sale, will be present Monday to make a final plea not to sell.
Clark Patton, one of the primary organizers of CC4PW, has been holding meetings with commissioners – two at a time to keep things personal – along with fellow organizers Patrick Kelly and Steve Bolding. He told the News-Times the group met with all the commissioners except for Jimmy Farrington, who they weren’t able to see due to scheduling conflicts.
Mr. Patton said the commissioners seemed “receptive to what we have to say,” but did not give much indication of how they’d vote Monday.
“I don’t know which way the vote will go,” he said.
“I am feeling optimistic after meeting with the Commissioners in small groups and being able to come to a better understanding on both sides,” Mr. Kelly shared in a text message to the News-Times.
The hope, Mr. Patton said, is a majority of the board will vote to reject the offer. After that point, his goal is for the CC4PW group to continue working with county commissioners and staff on acceptable alternatives to ensure the water system is viable – financially or otherwise – as a public entity for many years to come.
“It’s not over Monday,” Mr. Patton said. “We’ve got to get them to reject the bid first, that’s the first step, the major hurdle.”
At the board of commissioners’ meeting in April, county manager Tommy Burns laid out the financial difficulties affecting the county’s water system, which serves around 1,200 customers in an area concentrated on Highway 101 beginning just outside Beaufort’s jurisdiction, including areas of Mill Creek and North River.
Mr. Burns shared the system is essentially subsidized by a water district tax applied to all property owners within the special water district, regardless of whether or not they are hooked up to the system. He said if the county holds on to the system, to avoid it being designated a “financially stressed system” by the state of North Carolina, the county would likely have to eliminate the special water district and raise rates for customers.
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.