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Looking for growth

Bill may give Cassatt Water new financial status

Posted: February 2, 2012 3:30 p.m.
Updated: February 3, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Legislation introduced in the S.C. House of Representatives could change the way Cassatt Water Company handles its finances. If passed, the company would be converted from a private, non-profit entity to a public utility, allowing the company to cut costs and more efficiently initiate $16 million worth of capital improvements.

According to Manager Charles Litchfield, the new designation would allow the company to issue its own water revenue bonds instead of relying on loans from Farmers Home Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture established to help rural communities.

Litchfield said when the company was formed in 1969, federal funds were more readily available, but since then, funding has decreased and the company has exponentially grown.

“At the time, Cassatt Water Company was a small company and rural development was intended for helping small water companies. But now Cassatt Water Company has outgrown that option. Our projects and our needs are much greater than the funding they have available,” Litchfield said.

He also said the company now services customers in areas approaching four adjacent counties: Lancaster, Lee, Kershaw and Sumter. Currently, it has 10,300 customers and serves over 24,000 people in total. 

“We have to position ourselves to accommodate that growth,” Litchfield said. “We are constructing new wells, replacing old water lines with new water lines; it’s primarily just infrastructure improvements. It deals with a lot of odds and ends and a lot of projects.”

William Cox, counsel for Cassatt Water Company, said the company’s goal is to repair, maintain and improve its system in the best way possible.

“The company has to spend money and the company has to borrow money to do the things it needs to do to keep the infrastructure up to date, up to code, safe and consistent,” Cox said. “In the long run, it’s also going to be a significant amount of savings to the tapholders.”

He noted economic development would be another byproduct of the change as the company currently is restricted in the amount of water it can provide to industrial prospects. Under its current designation, no more than 15 percent of the company’s water can be sold to non-residential customers, according to Cox.

“Whether it’s Boeing or Goodyear or International Paper, they could not put a plant on I-20 and buy water from us. Nobody could because it would exceed the amount of money that we could generate annually and so, therefore, we’re prohibited from selling the water,” Cox said. “Right now, we have to tell them ‘no.’ But if this legislation passes, we’ll be able to tell them ‘yes.’ And, therefore, you can see how that chain reaction opens it up to economic development.”

He also indicated the infrastructure projects are essential to the lifeline and the continuation of the company and to the water system.

“The geographic area covered by Cassatt Water Company is as big as the city of Columbia. We don’t have as many customers obviously, but we have as much ground to cover. It is not an insignificant amount of coverage,” he said. “According to (S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control) regulations, it’s actually the single largest water company in the state of South Carolina that produces its own product. And it is the 37th largest water company in the entire state.”


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