Jail Seeking In-Town Water Rate

Published 5:35 pm Thursday, February 28, 2013

FARMVILLE – Town Council is considering a request from Piedmont Regional Jail (PRJ) to lower the facility's water and sewer bill from the out-of-town rate to the cheaper in-town rate.

The jail is dealing with financial challenges and the in-town rate would lower PRJ's water and sewer bill by $96,000 a year.

Town Manager Gerald Spates expressed his support of the request when it was discussed during Town Council's February monthly meeting. But a subsequent suggestion by council member Jamie Davis to phase in a reduced rate, given the Town's own budget challenges, engaged council's attention, too.

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After discussing the jail's request and possible responses, Town Council voted to send the request for further contemplation by its budget committee.

“We got a request from Piedmont Regional Jail, asking us to give them the in-town rates on water and sewer,” Spates said, introducing the subject, “and Piedmont Regional Jail does an awful lot of stuff for us. We've got a good working relationship with them. We had them on the in-town rates years ago and for some reason it got back on the out-of-town rate and with them taking care of all our inmates I'd like to suggest we allow them the in-town rate for water and sewer.”

A vote seemed imminent when council member Sally Thompson quickly responded, “I so move.”

Davis, however, then broached an approach he said “we might want to consider-a partial rate, as a process, instead of just going from the out-of-town rate to in-town rate. If we did it proportionately, maybe phase it into the budget over the next couple of years, like we give a 25 percent reduction versus a full in-town rate, and maybe phase it in…make it more feasible for the budget.”

Town Council had not inquired into how much the in-town rate would lower PRJ's bill and, as a consequence, Town revenue.

“What is the amount?” asked Thompson, with other council members clearly wanting an answer to that question.

“It's about $8,000 a month difference, between in-town and out of town,” Spates answered. “The jail uses a lot of water, the reason being because it's hard to control the inmate usage of water. You can't tell them, you know, 'Let's conserve water' after you've arrested them and keep them in jail for two years.”

Council member David E. Whitus sought additional clarification.

“Is it $8,000 as month or is the difference $8,000 a month?” he asked.

Spates replied that approving the jail's request would mean an “$8,000 difference between in-town and out-of-town” per monthly bill.

Or, as Whitus then noted, “about a $96,000-a-year difference” a year.

“Wow” was Thompson's one-word response.

Davis then pointed out that his suggestion of phasing in a lower rate for the jail would mean “maybe $2,000 a month versus $8,000 a month. Maybe have the budget committee take a look at it, to see how much more feasible it might be for the next fiscal year. But if we went ahead and acted now to do it 25 percent, to where it would be $2,000 a month, I think maybe, as we study very closely our budget items and be very careful…I know we have a great relationship with (the jail) and I think it might be more feasible” for the Town to phase it in.

At that point, Vice-Mayor Armstead D. Reid asked, “can we recommend it to the budget committee?” and Thompson immediately followed that with “I withdraw my motion” to approve the jail's request in full.

“I make a motion that we recommend it to the budget committee,” Reid continued.

“Actually it's been recommended to the budget committee, the budget committee spoke about it,” said council member Donald L. Hunter, who noted that both he and council member Dr. Edward I. Gordon are employed by the jail and must be aware of that conflict of interest.

But, Dr. Gordon noted, both can speak about the issue as long as they publicly acknowledge the conflict; they cannot vote.

“And what I was going to ask was…would (PRJ) perceive this, if we did a partial thing…as a gesture of good faith,” Dr. Gordon said, “and we wrote a letter saying we are phasing it in?”

Hunter said “in the middle of a budget year I can understand doing a percentage and then have it phased in for the next budget year.”

Council member Tommy Pairet offered that he thought the jail would understand because “the jail is facing its financial issues just like we are.”

Hunter agreed. “There'll be a lot of understanding with that,” he said.

Dr. Gordon suggested the letter to the jail note “how much totally we were considering, not just by the month” and Whitus underscored the fact that “in a year's time you're looking at $96,000.”

With the discussion winding toward conclusion and consensus, Hunter observed, “we just need to come up with a percentage for what we're going to do the rest of the year, if anything, or what we're going to start the new fiscal year off with.”

Dr. Gordon then asked about sending it “back to the budget committee to discuss” and Whitus agreed that “would be a good idea.”

Vice-Mayor Reid made a motion to do so and it passed without a single No.

The budget committee is comprised of Dr. Gordon, its chair, and Whitus and Hunter. Davis, not a member, has attended each budget committee meeting.