Last week the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners again took on the question of mandatory water and sewer hook-ups for city residents.
Actually, that question was answered years ago when the city made hooking up to the utilities mandatory. The specific question that’s been plaguing the city in recent years has been a number of residents in the Hollyview Forest, Sandy Level, Cross Creek and Laurel Court communities who have refused the city’s mandate to hook onto the systems.
The history of the situation dates to July 2007 when the Hollyview Forest and Sandy Level subdivisions were annexed, which were joined by the Cross Creek and Laurel Court subdivisions in July 2008.
Those neighborhoods were annexed by the city — largely, if not totally against the will of the people living there — and the board of commissioners in power at that time, July 2007 for the first annexation and July 2008 for the second, left the mess for successive commissioners to clean up.
Many of the residents of those neighbors complied with the hook ups, at considerable expense to themselves, but others have not. Some say they cannot afford it, even though the city has been working with them for six and seven years.
In April the city took up the issue again, with some discussion of seeking legal action against those residents. At the time Mayor Deborah Cochran voiced her concern over such an action, reminding the commissioners that the city has not, as far she knew, ever taken a city resident to court and she didn’t believe it should start now.
We agree with her sentiments, that a city shouldn’t be suing its residents if that can be avoided. At the same time, residents and businesses must be held to the same standard that others are held to, and if the city requires hook-ups to the water and sewer system, it is unfair to the vast majority of Mount Airy residents who have complied with the requirement to allow a few not to do so.
Last week, the board voted unanimously to adopt a compromise measure, charging $23.74 per month as an “availability fee” to those who do not hook onto the system, and requiring a water and sewer hook-up for the property if it changes hands.
Such a charge, often called a non-user fee in many localities, is not all that uncommon. It recognizes a need to be fair to all, requiring those who do not hook onto the system to still contribute to the city-wide utility, while allowing those who truly cannot afford the hook-up a bit of a financial break. It also ensures the properties in question will, one day, be part of the system when the home is sold. And for those who do not voluntarily pay, the city can recover the cost by essentially garnishing the taxpayer’s state income tax refund without the expense of civil action.
The $23.74 charge according to city attorney Hugh Campbell, amounts to roughly half of the monthly bill for a water and sewer customer might be charged, and there was some debate among the commissioners about whether this was a steep enough charge.
Maybe not, and that is an issue which the board can revisit. But, overall with the concept of an availability fee being put in place, we believe the board reached a good compromise that, as fairly as possible, serves the needs of all involved.