By Beth Lawrence

After a good bit of back and forth about the specifics of cutting system development fees, Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority has a 2020-21 budget of $4,894,075.

TWSA held a virtual public hearing June 16 to gather public feedback on the proposed budget. Due to the online nature of the meeting, the state mandated an extra 24-hour comment period to allow time for residents to weigh in.

“I’m really pleased with how Daniel (Manring) and Nancy (Hoyle) put this budget together,” said Mike Byers, Western Carolina University’s representative on the board. “The work that the committee put them through to find this budget wasn’t a small task. I feel really good about the budget.”

The budget for fiscal year 2020-21 makes efforts to plan for possible community impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and encourage continued development.

The biggest change is amendments to system development fees, the charges new accounts must pay to establish water and sewer service. Changes to the system development fees began with changes to categorization. Category A was previously 10 gallons per minute. It now applies to customers using 7-10 GPM.

With the new guidelines anything falling under 7 GPM will not require payment of the development fee.

Any single family home up to three bedrooms should fall under 7 GPM and not have to pay.

SDF categories A-H will see a 50 percent reduction in fee rates for business and residential development.

These rates will remain in place through the end of the 2021-22 fiscal year. 

Already established customers will not see an increase in water or sewer rates. The base rate for metered customers of $18.23 for residential and $20.79 for commercial and $31 and up for unmetered customers will remain the same. The charges for gallons used over 2,250 will remain the same for metered consumers.

Customers in the Whittier water system were set to receive a rate hike. Adding the system to TWSA’s service was partially financed by the county and additional fees paid by Whittier users. The authority received $28,000 from the county for fiscal year 2019-20. This year it will receive $21,000. The rate hike should have offset the $7,000 difference, but TWSA will not raise rates this year.

“My understanding is that the rates would continue to increase in Whittier until that plant was sustainable,” TWSA Director Manring said. “The consensus of the finance committee and my understanding from the board as well was to not raise any rates for this year due to the pandemic.”

The rate freeze is not permanent. The budget sets aside $379,500 for capital outlay projects including $20,000 for generator upgrades, bank stabilization, a raw water intake pump and other equipment.

Employees will not receive cost of living raises but will be given a 1.8 percent merit raise based on evaluations.

The budget sets aside $642,611 for debt service, or interest on outstanding loans.

The finance committee recommended establishing reserve floors to set aside money necessary to repay loans on future projects to upgrade and repair the system as it ages.

David Nestler, Sylva Town Board’s representative to TWSA, was pleased with the budget layout, especially efforts to consider the pandemic’s impact on residents and support economic development.

“I was very proud to discuss the preliminary budget at (Sylva’s) last meeting,” Nestler said. “I think this an excellent budget; the finance committee did a great job not raising rates and cutting impact fees. I’m very happy about it.”