Troubled water: Tuscarora Yarns says China Grove charging too much for water, sewer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
CHINA GROVE ó Town leaders plan to meet with top officials of Tuscarora Yarns to discuss the company’s complaints of excessive water and sewer charges.
Two weeks after another of the town’s longtime textile mills shut down, Tuscarora wants a reduction in water and sewer rates.
In a letter sent to town, county and state officials, Tuscarora questioned the billing practices, the charges and the town’s requirement that the company no longer use its own wells.
Tuscarora, which also operates plants in Mount Pleasant and Oakboro, employs 70 people at its facility on Main Street in China Grove. It is one of the few industries remaining in the town and Ervin T. Johnson, vice president for finance at Tuscarora, cited the recent closing of a Hanesbrands mill and the loss of jobs in making his company’s case.
“I would think the town would want to protect its industrial base of employers and not abuse them in this manner. The town needs the jobs just as much as we need to stay in business,” Johnson wrote in his letter. “We are seeking relief.”
Johnson compared the China Grove charges with Oakboro’s rates and billing method. According to Johnson’s math, the China Grove bill would have been $11,264, instead of $50,229, if China Grove used the same billing and rates as Oakboro.
Town Manager Bill Pless said he was aware of Tuscarora officials’ concerns and had attempted to meet with them in December, but they had conflicting schedules.
Pless and Mayor Don Bringle said the Board of Aldermen will likely discuss the issue at its planning retreat Jan. 31.
But both said the town’s rate is dictated by its water and sewer contracts with Salisbury-Rowan Utilities and the debt repayment for major water and sewer projects. The rates also must cover the cost of employees in the water and sewer departments and related operational costs.
Last year, the sewer and water departments ended up in the red, forcing the town to raise the rates to the current $8 per 1,000 gallons for water and $9 per 1,000 gallons for sewer.
The Oakboro rates cited by Tuscarora are $3.47 per 1,000 gallons for water and $4.93 per 1,000 gallons for sewer.
Pless argued China Grove’s situation is further complicated by a long-term contract that requires the town to buy 300,000 gallons of water daily from Salisbury, although the town currently doesn’t use all of it.
The town’s water usage is expected to drop more with the closing of the Hanesbrands mill, which was a major water customer.
Bringle said the Hanesbrands closing will put the town’s water-sewer operations in the red for the current year.
Pless said the town has agreed to put separate meters on some industries, including Hitachi, so they are charged for actual discharge, rather than basing it on water usage.
But Pless said Tuscarora has multiple connections to sewer lines and that has made sewer meters unfeasible.
Pless said the town obviously wants to keep the industries, but has to generate the revenue to keep water and sewer operations going.
“It’s a challenging situation,” Pless said. He plans to talk with the town board and review the overall situation before meeting with company officials, he said.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.