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County doubles capacity
Board votes to expand plant
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Forsyth County News
Other action

Also Tuesday, the Forsyth County commission:

• Tabled an item from Commissioner Patrick Bell regarding procedures for board appointments. Bell and Commissioner Brian Tam opposed the decision.

• Approved a bid from Reid & Reid Contractors to demolish the Extension Office, sheriff’s criminal investigation division annex and crime lab on Maple Street, which will allow for additional road safety measures.

• Voted to hold the first public hearing for an expedited rezoning to agriculture for 103 acres of land currently zoned residential in north Forsyth.

• Changed commissioner pay from the current base rate plus additional pay per meeting to a flat salary of $34,200 for members and $35,400 for the chairman.

Note: Votes were 5-0 unless noted otherwise.

— Alyssa LaRenzie
Faced with an uncertain water situation, the Forsyth County commission decided Tuesday to double the capacity of the county’s treatment plant.

The 5-0 vote came after officials reviewed water department figures that showed the county could encounter a water shortage during peak months as early as August 2011.

“We could have days in the short future where we couldn’t supply water,” said Tim Perkins, the county’s director of water and sewer. “An expansion obviously needs to be made.”

At its current capacity, the plant on Antioch Road can treat 12 million gallons per day. With the expansion, the plant will be able to treat 24 million gallons per day.

The total cost to the county will be about $20 million, which will come from water and sewer bonds and reserves.

Though the timing of the expense isn’t ideal, the projected water shortage led the board to act.

“It doesn’t sound like we really have a choice,” Commissioner Jim Harrell said. “It doesn’t matter where we get the raw water from, it’s got to be finished.”

Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse agreed.

“If we don’t get capability in place within a very short time, and if the economy were [to] start a rapid recovery, we could not supply water,” he said.

The county currently buys treated and untreated water from the city. With the current water contract set to expire in 2012, the two governments have gone back and forth on an extension.

A counter proposal to the city’s latest contract offer is expected to be drafted in early February.

Officials will review the numbers and recommendations the water and sewer department presented Tuesday and discuss how to move forward on the matter Feb. 9.

The issue will be handled with “no exception,” each commissioner said.

Even after expanding the treatment plant, the county likely will continue to buy water from the city for a long time, Perkins said.

In the current contract, the county is required to purchase 1.62 billion gallons per year.

The county is looking in the contract at a few facets of payment that it could address in a counter offer.

In the past, the county has contributed to capital improvements that have benefitted both the city and the county.

Perkins said in most situations where water is purchased from another entity, such improvements are calculated in as a discount when determining the wholesale rate.

“We’ve paid that wholesale rate on top of those capital contributions,” he said.

The cost of treating water will be another topic up for discussion. Officials feel the city may be charging the county too much for treated water.

In other water-related matters, commissioners on Tuesday approved a payment to Wayne Miller, a former operator of the Windermere wastewater treatment plant, which the county bought in 2006.

The facility paid for belt press improvements at a cost of about $15,000 and also received a settlement for other past due money, including cancellation of contract, for a total of about $110,000.

Improvements to the belt press make dewatering sludge more efficient and lighter, which keeps the county’s disposal costs down.

While the county didn’t approve the updates, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said they do have value that makes reimbursing the money worthwhile.

“Given the urgency of the situation, it seemed like a reasonable solution,” Jarrard said. “There’s a tipping point between where there’s a reasonable time to put our foot on the ground.”

Patrick Bell was the only commissioner to vote against the payment, saying the improvements should have first been authorized.

“I just have an issue with the terms changing after the fact,” Bell said. “It happens too much and the taxpayers are the ones who foot the bill.”