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SC prison has to pay $920,000 water and sewer bill

December 26, 2021 GMT

RIDGELAND, S.C. (AP) — A Jasper County town is being paid nearly $920,000 by the South Carolina prison system to end a four-year dispute over a facility’s water and sewer bill.

Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told the State Fiscal Accountability Authority earlier this month that he didn’t want to pay the bill, but he felt like he had no choice because state law allows the increase.

“They literally came to us and said they’d shut the water off,” Stirling said, a move that would cause chaotic and dangerous conditions behind bars.

Stirling asked the five-member authority that oversees agency spending, made up of the governor, treasurer, comptroller general, House Ways and Means Chairman and Senate Finance Chairman, to put pressure on legislators to do something to prevent another town from taking advantage of the state.

“We ask you to vote yes, but we ask you to look at this,” Stirling told the board, according to The Post and Courier. “There’s nothing to stop other water and sewer districts from doing this to other institutions.”

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Ridgeland Town administrator Dennis Averkin declined to comment, telling the newspaper the lawsuit over the water rates was still pending.

The dispute started in 2017 when Ridgeland raised water rates by 400% and sewer rates by 300% for the Ridgeland Correctional Institution after saying the prison was exceeding maximum water usage under an expired contract. It was the first rate increase in 25 years after the state agreed to help pay for the town’s water plant, Stirling said.

State law didn’t allow the prison system to protest the hike like a regular user might be able to, the prison director said.

The new rates also charge for a minimum amount of water and sewer that the prison likely will never reach after it installs a new toilet system, Stirling said.

The hikes were expected to cost taxpayers more than $200,000 extra yearly on top of a one-time, $1 million fee.