The Town of Wilkesboro was recently awarded $331,599.66 as part of the multiparty settlement of an antitrust class action lawsuit involving the price fixing of processing chemicals used at the town’s raw water treatment plant.

Town Manager Ken Noland told the Wilkesboro Town Council during a work session on Monday, “We are very excited—it’s like found money when you get something like this. We wouldn’t be seeing this money if it wasn’t for Sam Call (the town’s director of public works) and his willingness to keep records and look back at records.”

Noland explained that about 10 years ago, the town experienced issues buying aluminum sulfate, or alum, from its supplier. Alum, which serves as a flocculant, is added to raw water to get it as clear and particulate-free as possible.

“Sam told me, ‘We have a price lock on alum and now they won’t honor it.’ I felt that we may have been a victim of collusion several years ago based on past conversations with Sam. At the time he was very frustrated when trying to lock a price and hold it for the purchase of alum.”

Noland said that representatives of the plaintiffs reached out to Town Attorney John Willardson about six months ago and asked if the town would be a party to the class action suit.

“These funds are the result of staff’s ability and willingness to research and recall activities at least a decade old without any guarantee of a positive outcome. Kudos to Sam Call and his staff’s willingness to go above and beyond,” said Noland.

The total judgment of the suit was just under $30 million and involved a dozen states in the Southeast, according to Noland. Wilkesboro’s judgment was $499,924.86, and “usually you get pennies on the dollar, but we got 76 cents on the dollar ,which is almost unheard of.”

The judgment was made in the U.S. District Court District of New Jersey on March 11, 2019. The multi-plaintiff complaint was filed against defendants USALCO LLC, Brenntag and the Delta Chemical Corp.

The plaintiffs filed the suit to recover monetary damages and injunctive relief against the defendants for conspiring to suppress and eliminate competition in the sale and marketing of alum pursuant to antitrust laws.

Noland said the town was very excited about these unexpected dollars that have been deposited in the town coffers.

Bob Urness, the town’s director of finance and assistant town manager, said the allotment could be used for either general fund or water-sewer fund expenditures. He said it could be a natural fit for phase two of downtown revitalization.

Mayor Mike Inscore agreed with Urness, saying, “It could indeed be a nice springboard for phase two,” which the town is planning to launch this year.

Fence standards

A public hearing was held during the council’s regular meeting on Monday concerning a new proposed ordinance regarding fence standards. The town currently has no standards in code regarding fence height, design or security.

The ordinance would require that fences be maintained in good working order and be structurally sound. They would also adhere to sight distance requirements as set forth in town code.

Fences featuring razor wire or other high security would be allowed only in R20A (suburban/agricultural), B2 (general business), B3 (limited business), M1 (industrial) and M2 (limited industrial) zones. Electrical fences would be allowed only in R20A.

In the town’s historic district and B1, fence heights are limited to four feet in front of properties and six feet on side or rear areas. In residential zones fences shall not exceed five feet in front and eight feet on the side or rear areas. Fences in business or industrial zones can be up to eight feet in any area of the properties.

Andrew Carlton, director of planning and community development, told the council that preexisting fences would be grandfathered if the ordinance is passed. “This ordinance will provide better guidance for staff and those interested in erecting a fence,” he said.

Councilmember Andy Soots asked the planning department to consider adding to the ordinance standards on property line setbacks and having both sides of the fence aesthetically matching.

No public comments were made during the public hearing, which will be continued at the council’s next regular meeting on Feb. 1 at 5:30 p.m.

Other items

Also on Monday, the council approved the extension of paid sick time for town employees who accept a COVID-19 vaccine when it is made available to them. The extension would last until the lifting of North Carolina’s state of emergency.

The council also approved the hiring of Winston-Salem-based Freese and Nichols to perform engineering services related to the replacement of the Woodfield culvert on Woodfield Way. The firm was selected over bids placed by three other engineers.

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