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Fight over rates threatens $18 million Kerr Lake water project

April 18, 2019

A dispute over water rates spilled into the Senate Thursday, with legislators grappling over a bill that could hold up $18 million in federal grants set aside for upgrades to a regional system that serves Vance, Granville, Warren and Franklin counties.

Senate Bill 320 would require the state to hang onto any grant money for a regional water project until every local government tied to the system has filed an agreement on the current and future rates customers will pay or waived their right to do so.

Senators said the bill was tailored to one project, though it’s not mentioned by name in the bill: A federally funded upgrade to the Kerr Lake Regional Water System, run by the city of Henderson.

Sen. John Alexander, R-Wake, said Franklin County feels the rates Henderson charges are too high. With the grant queued up, it makes sense for upgrades to go through “without the town of Henderson being dictatorial as they have been in the past.”

“The people need to be able to get along in order for these dollars to be implemented,” Alexander said.

Sen. Erica Smith, D-Northampton, who represents much of the area served by the system, said the bill was filed to “deliberately target a project in another member’s district.” She said Henderson put in the initial capital for this system years ago, that Franklin County did not join until years later and that it’s unfair for the General Assembly to interfere now.

The Senate supported the bill 20-17, a preliminary vote that broke largely along party lines, with Republicans supporting Alexander and Democrats sticking with Smith.

Smith successfully delayed a final vote until the Senate returns in about a week from spring break.

Thirteen of the 50 senators were absent Thursday.

Smith called the bill “retribution and penalizing legislation,” and she questioned Alexander about who he’d spoken to about the measure.

Alexander, whose district includes Franklin County, said he talked to county commissioners and also has been told that Warren County commissioners were “very much in favor.” Smith said she’d heard different from Warren County and asked for the names of commissioners Alexander spoke to there.

Alexander said he didn’t talk to commissioners there but that Franklin County commissioners relayed their support to him.

There’s also a House version of this bill, House Bill 414, but it hasn’t moved yet from committee.