The Wilkes County commissioners agreed by consensus to advise Ronda elected officials as they decide the future of the town’s water system.
The issue is whether needed improvements are made to the Ronda water system infrastructure, the system is merged into Elkin’s water system or some other option is pursued.
Eddie Settle, chairman of the county commissioners, said during his board’s Feb. 16 meeting that he received a call that day on behalf of the interests of Ronda’s 350 water customers.
Settle said in an interview that the call was from Kevin Reece, a newly-elected Ronda commissioner.
“They (Ronda officials) would like to make sure these interests “are looked after if they do contract with, say, the Town of Elkin,” said Settle during the meeting.
They want county government’s input, possibly from County Manager John Yates and County Attorney Tony Triplett, he said.
“This is something big for these citizens in that town. We’re talking about a small, small town that we could possibly help in some way. I don’t think it would cost too much to have Tony look at the contracts and what is proposed from the Town of Elkin or whatever they decide to do.”
Settle noted that a substantial portion of Ronda’s water customers, including East Wilkes middle and high schools, are outside the town limits. He asked for a response from other commissioners.
Commissioner David Gambill said Triplett could end up in a predicament if he advised Ronda. Later in the meeting, Gambill said he supported having county officials share input with Ronda officials.
Triplett said he didn’t foresee representing Ronda in a legal sense, but added that he has no familiarity with contract documents in the matter.
He said he had no problem with county officials assisting Ronda while not stepping beyond their roles of county board chairman, county attorney etc. Triplett said he would likely review paperwork under consideration and meet with a Ronda representative and Settle. “It may even boil down to recommending what direction they go in,” said Triplett.
Commissioner Keith Elmore said he didn’t mind Yates and Triplett helping Ronda “but they do have a mayor, a board and a governance down there that is responsible for doing all these things. But, I’m all for helping if we can help them.”
Settle said Ronda is limited financially.
He also said he told Reece that county government isn’t in the water business, but that he believed the commissioners would support assisting them.
“You probably wouldn’t be having this discussion if it involved a larger municipality because they probably would have an attorney,” added Settle.
Triplett said Lisa Valdez of Statesville was Ronda’s attorney “a year or two ago” when they talked. In June 2019, the Ronda commissioners voted to employ Valdez as town attorney and approved a resolution in support of doing a study to determine the best way to address Ronda’s water needs.
Reece said in an interview that in a recent work session, the Ronda commissioners agreed to seek proposals for ongoing legal services from local attorneys. “We don’t have money for a lot of legal advice.”
He said approving an Elkin take-over of the Ronda water system would free Ronda resources to address other needs and opportunities. He said that if this occurred, Elkin should charge customers in Ronda the same water rates as customers in Elkin.
Reece said he recently talked to Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland about the possibility of a Wilkesboro waterline to the Northwest Visitor Center on U.S. 421 East being extended to Ronda.
He said Ronda and Jonesville officials also discussed possibly connecting Ronda and Jonesville waterlines on Swan Creek Road.
Reece also said he learned in a meeting with Ron Niland, the town’s management consultant, that the town board needed to decide soon whether to upgrade the Ronda water system, approve a merger with Elkin or pursue another option.
Niland is a former Mount Airy city manager and was elected a Mount Airy commissioner in 2019.
In February 2020, Ronda and Elkin were jointly awarded a $50,000 state Community Development Block Grant to fund a study on merging Ronda’s water system with Elkin’s water system. Niland applied for the grant a year earlier.
Niland said last week that results of the study, conducted by Hickory-based McGill Associates P.A., are expected soon and hopefully will be available for discussion in a Ronda board retreat in April.
He said the alternative to becoming part of the Elkin water system is spending as much as $500,000 on refurbishing Ronda’s two water storage tanks and water pumps and possibly drilling two new wells to maintain adequate service and meet state water quality standards. Neither water tank has been repainted since installed and officials said they at least need a new special coating inside and out.
Niland said earlier that Ronda’s current well, which feeds the town’s standpipe tank (shaped like a vertical pipe) on Cemetery Street, no longer produced enough water. This tank, installed in 1993, serves customers within town limits.
Water bought from Elkin arrives via a 12-inch waterline along N.C. 268 to fill a Ronda water tank installed in 2003 near East Wilkes Middle School. After the county commissioners applied for grants to fund the 12-inch line, the approved funding passed through county government to Ronda in 2014. This line connected with an existing line along roads north of N.C. 268 East to create a loop.
The tank near the middle school serves most Ronda customers outside town limits, including East Wilkes High, the town’s biggest water customer during the school year.