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Water rates going up in Bethune

Posted: May 9, 2014 3:49 p.m.
Updated: May 12, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Bethune residents who receive water service from the town will soon see a rate increase. Bethune Town Council announced the rate increase at its May meeting on Thursday. Councilman Don Witham reported the town’s water rates are lower than other water providers in the area and the added money is needed for necessary repairs to the town’s water tank and delivery system.

The town is looking at an $88,000 expense to repair and repaint its water tower, as required by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The town applied for a grant to cover approximately $60,000 of the cost, but has not received news about its being approved. If the grant does not come through, the town will have to foot the entire bill. Witham said the town also needs to hire a firm to prepare a preliminary engineering report that has to accompany grant requests for money to upgrade the water system.

“All the grant writers tell us we have to have this base document to go with the grant request. That is at a cost of about $18,000,” he said. “We’re running up a few bills here, but it looks like we have to do that just to have a document in our hand when we try to go after some larger grants.”

Witham said the water rates will go up by 10 percent on July 1 and 10 percent for the next two years.

“The lowest rate at Cassatt is $17.61. Our rate after the three increases, three years down the road will be only $15.73. I’ve got rates for several other towns and the lowest one is $19.88 and that is the town of Newberry. The highest is the town of Pendleton and that is $37.25,” Witham said. “You just heard the expenses. We’re going to have to pick up the non-grant cost of $20,000 to $25,000 for painting the water tank. We still don’t know if we’re going to get that grant, but we’re hoping.”

Witham also brought up the subject of charging a water deposit for renters in town, as several have moved, leaving unpaid water bills.

“People leave the rental property and don’t pay the water bill -- will not pay it. So we’re looking at instituting some type of deposit when property is rented out and we would sit on that deposit until they leave and pay the bill,” he said. “We’ve got to do something. That’s happened several times over the past few years.”

Mayor Charles McCoy said a water tank valve the town planned to replace ended up being taken care of at a much lower than expected cost.

“We looked at the valve and it’s amazing what a little P.B. Blaster will do, so the valve works fine and we don’t have to change it,” McCoy said. “We made sure it worked. We cut the pumps on and cut them off and checked it against the fire hydrant and it does work good.”

P.B. Blaster is an aerosol lubricating product used to free rusted nuts and bolts. McCoy said not replacing the valve saved the town around $2,000.

As for the town’s overall budget, Witham said it is around $15,000 short.

“Something’s got to give, so we may have to figure out how to cut expenses. We’re looking at a $15,000 deficit next year,” he said.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

McCoy also read a resignation letter he received from Bethune Police Chief Glenn Davis shortly after council’s April meeting. McCoy said the town can only afford to hire a part-time officer and has been advertising the job opening but has yet to receive any inquiries. Witham said the town is searching for grant money to hire a full-time policeman. He asked those at the meeting if anyone knows a certified person who may be willing to serve as an officer on an interim basis until a permanent officer is found, and to encourage them to apply.

Councilman John Fulmer updated council on the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees’ most recent meeting. The board is proposing to consolidate Bethune and Mt. Pisgah elementary schools, along with others, into a larger school to be built near North Central middle and high schools, 18 miles from Bethune. Fulmer is strongly opposed to the idea and is encouraging Bethune residents to join him in protesting to the school board.

“We’re talking about children’s education here. How many times do you get to get your child’s education right? One time, so let’s get it right the first time,” he said. “It’s not conducive to their education, the distance they would have to go to a new school at North Central. We pay our taxes here to support the school system … they’re taxing us and (possibly) making our kids go 18 miles. It’s not fair and I told the school board that.”

Fulmer also said some town residents who have been asked to clean up their property are cooperating and some lots have shown improvement.

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