The Wilkesboro Town Council approved a 7.5% across-the-board increase in the town’s combined water/sewer rate, effective Jan. 1, in a work session Wednesday night.

For residential customers, the monthly base water/sewer bill will increase slightly less than $1, from $12.78 to $13.74.

The 7.50% rate hike also applies to industrial customers and the town’s one customer classified as “heavy industrial,” Tyson Foods Inc.

Tyson now pays $3.63 per 1,000 gallons of water bought from the town and will pay $3.90 starting Jan. 1. Other industrial customers, which each consume much less water than Tyson, are now charged $5.31 per 1,000 gallons and will pay $5.71 starting Jan. 1.

Councilman Jimmy Hayes made the motion to accept the rate increase, and he and council members Russ Ferree and Nellie Archibald voted in favor of the motion. Councilman Gary Johnson cast the lone dissenting vote.

Johnson, defeated in his reelection bid on Nov. 5, asked if he could be recused from voting to avoid the appearance of what he called a “wee hours of the night” passage of the motion. “I’m not sure it would be perceived properly by the community with a new councilperson (Andy Soots) coming on board (in December),” said Johnson.

Town Manager Ken Noland told Johnson he should be recused only if he stood to gain financially from the vote, and that the vote amounted to a continuation of the current-year budget that the board approved in June.

Bob Urness, the town’s director of finance and assistant town manager, presented the council with a rate adjustment study that recommended the 7.5% rate increase to finance the town’s capital water/sewer infrastructure needs over the next 10 years.

Those water/sewer projects include an estimated $14 million expansion of the town’s wastewater treatment plant by 2023 and phase one of $19 million in improvements to the town’s raw water intake system on the Yadkin River by 2025.

“We have to be pro-active and get ahead of this (capital improvements), and if we do it right, through good planning, we’ll do it in a way that protects the citizens with a good rate structure,” said Noland.

Urness estimated that the town would take in $8 million in water/sewer revenue in the current fiscal year with no rate hike. The 7.5% increase would generate an additional $300,000 in water/sewer revenue this year, he noted.

It will be the town’s first water/sewer rate in five and a half years. The last bump of 7.5% increased the base residential rate from $11.62 to $12.49 in 2014.

The new rate study included the potential for additional 5% to 7.5% increases on Oct. 1, 2020, July 1, 2021 and July 1, 2022. A more detailed future rate study would address the need for further increases, added Urness.

Rock Building update

Noland told the board that a required pre-demolition asbestos inspection of the town-owned “Rock Building” on North Bridge Street revealed that “the roof is full of it (asbestos).” He said the demolition company will soon provide the town estimates of how to abate the asbestos before the razing of the building.

Noland handed out a memo from Andrew Carlton, the town’s director of planning and community development, which said a design decision on a newly-built facility where the Rock Building currently sits “needs to be made no later than mid-March 2020.”

Carlton said that would allow the design process to take place between April and July of 2020 and construction to start in September or October 2020. Construction would last seven to eight months and be completed prior to the 2021 event season at the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons, he wrote.

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