As recommended by Town Manager Wilson Hooper, the North Wilkesboro commissioners on Tuesday night agreed to delay addressing the town’s aging sewer lines under Euclid Avenue and related manholes until next spring.
“I recommend that we table this until spring, when we can deal with it more comprehensively. If we do that, we can consider it alongside our larger list of capital needs, which I think is the prudent thing to do,” said Hooper.
He said the delay would allow time to obtain better information as the basis for decisions. “Committing to this now, based on back-of-the-napkin math, made using unreliable numbers, and without considering it alongside our other capital needs, seems risky to me.”
Hooper made the recommendation after presenting his projected town water and sewer fund balances each year for the next decade. He expected overall water-sewer revenues to slightly outpace expenses until fiscal year 2028-29.
Gary Flowers of Garner-based Municipal Engineering identified replacement of 5,600 feet of sewer pipe under Euclid Avenue as the top priority when he gave a report on the town’s water and sewer infrastructure needs at the Aug. 22 town board work session.
Flowers said replacing that section of sewer line, from Main Street to Finley Avenue, would cost about $1.1 million. Hooper predicted that in fiscal 2022-23, when the town would start making payments on the Euclid Avenue project, the town’s water and sewer fund would “already be in the red (losing money). Over the next few years it gets a little better, but we’d start off in the red.”
He said most of the sewer lines in the downtown area and near the Euclid Avenue and Seventh Street discharge points are terra-cotta clay pipe and are in “poor condition.” Hooper said he believes the sewer lines were installed in the 1920s.
Flowers reported finding numerous pipe defects such as cracks, fractures, holes, offset points, sags and problems with roots throughout the area he surveyed, which was Euclid Avenue, Seventh Street and downtown. Flowers said these defects made it particularly important that the town board consider applying for funds from the state to address what he called “critical infrastructure issues.”
He added that North Wilkesboro would likely qualify for a low- or zero-interest loan from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Infrastructure (DEQ).
He also said many of the manholes inspected were in poor condition. The report said most are made of brick or masonry blocks and have active infiltration occurring, which means water leaking in could at times overwhelm the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
Flowers’ report resulted from DEQ awarding North Wilkesboro a $100,000 grant in 2017 for an inventory and assessment of the condition of the town’s water and sewer infrastructure and for creating a capital improvement plan for upgrades and maintenance. With the grant, the town hired Municipal Engineering to perform a series of technical tests and analyses in 2018.
Hooper said Tuesday that an application to DEQ for funding the Euclid Avenue project would have to be submitted by Sept. 30.
At the Aug. 22 work session, commissioners asked Hooper to determine if adding the Euclid Avenue project to the board’s existing list of capital improvement projects was affordable.
Projects on the list include building a raw water intake on the Yadkin River to establish the Yadkin as the town’s primary water source, replacing the Reddies River.
To help finance the $8 million Yadkin intake project, the board plans to set aside about $250,000 annually starting in fiscal 2022-23. In July, the board learned that North Wilkesboro had qualified for a $6.74 million loan from the state to fund most of it, with up to 25% of the payback being forgiven and the remainder repayable over 20 years with no interest.
Also on the capital projects list are water plant improvements, a public service building and updates to the town’s wastewater treatment plant. Those projects are completed and should all be paid off by FY24.
The town’s largest current debt payment is $313,572 annually for the cancelled W. Kerr Scott Reservoir intake project, based on splitting a $1.5 million debt 50-50 with the Town of Wilkesboro. Hooper said it will be paid off in fiscal 2021-22.
He said the town could possibly afford the Euclid project with a 10% one-time utility rate increase. “But even with what I consider to be a pretty drastic one-time increase, that still just barely puts us in the realm of affordability. Even with that, we don’t know if we’d qualify for state grants and not just loans.”
Flowers told the town it would not qualify for grants because its water-sewer rates are too low, according to Hooper.
Hooper said Public Works Director Dale Shumate assured him that Shumate and his staff can keep the sewer system “running and in good order for another year while we get our financial affairs in order.”
Commissioner Debbie Ferguson told Hooper, “I am very grateful for your thoughtful and cautious analysis of this project, and I completely support your recommendation.”
All other board members voiced approval of the strategy. No vote was required.
Also on Tuesday, the board:
• approved a resolution closing 10th Street between C and D streets from 5-8 p.m. Sept. 27 for a downtown art walk sponsored by the town, Wilkes Art Gallery and Downtown North Wilkesboro Partnership;
• approved the appointment of Adrian J. deKeyzer for a three-year term on the review committee of the town’s business revolving loan program;
• approved an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance that changes terms of board of adjustment members from five to three years, to be consistent with state law;
• tabled Hooper’s signing of a sublease granting the town’s consent to the leasing of a Wilkes Emergency Medical Services facility between Wake Forest Baptist Health and Wilkes County. Vannoy said Wake Forest had not signed the lease yet;
• heard a presentation on the town’s new website (www.north-wilkesboro.com) from Crystal Keener, director of tourism and the downtown partnership. Keener said the upgrade from CivicPlus cost $16,800 with a recurring annual fee of $4,000 for maintenance and technical support; and
• heard a presentation from Keener on the town’s updated mass notification phone system. The work by Civic Ready costs $3,900 for implementation and training, with a recurring annual fee of $2,800. The old system by Blackboard Connect was costing the town $4,300 annually.