By John Peters
June 27, 2014
All too often in politics, elected leaders do what is popular, or do whatever is necessary to avoid controversy, even if the very people they are elected to represent are harmed in the long run.
Such would seem to be the case in Pilot Mountain.
The town has for too many years run its finances a little like a trust fund baby would, growing up with no idea of financial responsibility, not understanding that spending more than you take in eventually means disaster.
In Pilot Mountain, the town has run its water and sewer system like that, charging rates far below what is needed simply to pay its own bills (let alone set aside money for maintenance and capital improvements), stealing money from the town’s general fund in order to keep the water and sewer fund in the black.
Former Town Manager Homer Dearmin was able to at least get the board to stop taking money from the general fund to prop up the water and sewer system, and the results should be eye-opening. The town’s water and sewer fund started this fiscal year with a year-end balance of $117,000. By the end of the fiscal year, which comes Monday, the fund will have shrunk by $45,000, or well more than a third. At this rate, the water and sewer fund will run out of that surplus in less than two years, meaning the town will either shut off its water and sewer service — not likely — or start robbing the general fund again.
New Town Manager Amanda Reid is doing the responsible thing, presenting a budget to the board that addresses this issue, that shows the need for a significant change in rate structure for Pilot Mountain.
Let us be clear, this is not some spend-spend-spend bureaucrat who believes public money is hers to use frivolously. This is a town manager doing what the board of commissioners hired her to do: give an honest appraisal of what must be done. Now.
Her proposal is to institute a modern rate structure that, first, brings in enough revenue to at least cover the cost of providing that water and sewer service; and second, that more fairly shares the cost of water and sewer rates among customers.
At present, Pilot Mountain charges a flat rate for water and sewer customers who use between 2,0001 gallons a month and 7,000 gallons a month, which means those lower-use customers are subsidizing the water and sewer service for the ones in the middle and higher portions of that spectrum.
Reid’s budget proposal to the board institutes a based rate of $7.50 per month for each service, plus a $5.65 charge per thousand gallons used each month. For those users now on the lower end of the scale, using 1,000 gallons or less, their monthly fees would drop slightly. Those in the more normal 1,000 to 4,000 gallons of usage would see a varying degree of modest increases (although there is the possibility some would see a small decrease). High users would see the bulk of the increases, as it should be, since they are using more of the service.
Unfortunately, this board, led by Mayor Earl Sheppard, seems intent upon keeping its collective head in the sand, rejecting attempts to raise the rates. Some we believe simply lack courage to do what is right, others we wonder if they oppose the move because it would be more cost to them each month for their own water and sewer usage.
Either way, it is time for this board to grow up and recognize the facts: If they ran a business like this, they would soon be closing the doors or worse, going to jail.
We’re not saying the exact rate structure presented by Reid is the one that must be adopted, nor do we believe the board must stem the red ink in totality this year. But a significant step must be made in that direction now, and the final steps must be taken soon thereafter.