South Carolina sewer consolidation plan sparks disagreements
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — A proposal to consolidate some South Carolina sewer systems is creating sharp divisions over whether the plan is a political power grab or a savvy way to make needed improvements.
Greenville County leaders are deciding whether to merge six sewer districts, with a public hearing set for Monday.
The Greenville News reports the plan calls for MetroConnects to take over sewer collection services in the following special purpose districts: Berea Public Service District; Gantt Fire, Sewer and Police District; Marietta Water, Sanitation and Sewer District; Parker Sewer and Fire Subdistrict; Taylors Fire and Sewer District; and Wade Hampton Fire and Sewer District.
Calculations used in a consultant’s financial assessment of the plan determined yearly sewer collection costs for more than 40,000 customers in three sewer districts could increase an average of 52%, while annual costs for 50,000 customers in the remaining districts could drop by an average of 7%, the newspaper reported.
Those calculations are based on rate data from MetroConnects. The net result could add up to a $2 million annual increase in customer fees if the sewer plan is adopted.
Supporters of the consolidation proposal say it’s needed to enable development and protect the environment, with at least $245 million in sewer improvements identified as needed. They say the small sewer districts can’t afford or are unwilling to repair and replace aging pipes.
Phyllis Henderson, a former state representative and Greenville County commissioner, said officials running the special purpose districts are mainly interested in “maintaining the little kingdom, the little fiefdom they have — the power.”
Henderson is part of a group called Waste Water Unification Towards a New Greenville Environment, which has created a website to promote the consolidation plan and aired ads on conservative talk-radio stations.
Opponents of the consolidation plan want to keep smaller districts led by locally elected leaders, who they say can provide personalized service to their taxpayers.
“This is a backroom power grab at its very worst, and it will hurt the most unfortunate people in our communities,” Sarah Franco, a Parker Sewer and Fire Subdistrict commissioner, said during a Thursday press conference.
Four of the special purpose districts — Gantt, Marietta, Parker and Taylors — have filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the county’s consolidation plan.
They asked a judge to block a public hearing that the County Council intends to hold Monday because only a limited number of residents will be allowed to attend in person because of coronavirus pandemic. The request was denied.