'Something must be done' for Black Mountain to keep revenue up in water program

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
With reports for needing to increase revenue for the town's water program, Black Mountain Public Works Director Jamey Matthews said pump replacements and measurements of water yield from town wells could be beneficial for the future.

The Black Mountain Town Council held a special call meeting on April 26 to hear financial reports and discuss the funding of the town's water program.

With costs rising faster than revenue, advisers recommended making changes to Black Mountain's water program, including raising costs for residents outside of town. According to Jamey Matthews, the public works director, keeping wells in good condition would also be beneficial in the long run.

"It's been helpful and alarming in some ways," said Mayor Larry Harris at the conclusion of the meeting.

According to a financial report presented to Town Council, the town general fund's unassigned fund balance sits at $3.55 million, roughly 37% of the town's annual expenditures. The report recommends towns have 25-30% in the fund balance available.

Representing WithersRavenel, a civil engineering firm with locations across the state, Megan Powell and Steve Miller presented a report on the status of Black Mountain's water funds. 

"This analysis really focuses on your 10 year capital improvement plan," Powell said, addressing the council. "It's to serve as a tool to help guide your decisions to help prioritize your capital needs, look at your funding options."

As the town looks ahead, working on budgeting, WithersRavenel proposed making changes to fixed costs and volume costs in the water program.

Currently, Black Mountain's water program funds four major debt projects for a total of $195,692, covering things like stormwater replacements. The town's total water program investment amounts to $5.8 million.

The largest water fund projects in Black Mountain consist of line replacements and maintenance, at $1.275 million, the Montreat Road waterline at $1.2 million, and the N.C. 9 waterline at $1 million.

Miller reported that the town's water needs are likely to increase, projecting a plan through 2030. With Black Mountain's revenue growing by 0.5%, expenditures are increasing by 4%-5% in addition to the cost of purchasing water from Asheville, rising 4% annually.

"We're going to be buying more water from the city of Asheville just because of the lack of growth in our own system," Harris said. "It's just something we need to get accustomed to in our budgeting."

One potential revenue increase advised by Miller and Powell was to raise the cost of water for residents living outside of town, doubling what inside residents pay. Miller said this 2-to-1 ratio is not uncommon in North Carolina because outsiders don't pay taxes within the town's jurisdiction. 

If this raising of costs were to occur, it would mean a 6% annual increase for outside residents.

"The situation is that you have revenues growing at a certain amount and expenditures are growing more so, so that gap is shrinking over time," Miller said. "Something must be done to in order to assure that your revenues continue to exceed your expenditures."

In addition to raising costs for outside residents, Harris pointed out minimizing the purchase of water from Asheville would also help the program's revenue.

Matthews told the council the wells the town has are very old. In his time as director of public works, Matthews has already seen the loss of a well on the golf course.

In the meantime, Matthews said the town can make sure to replace and keep pumps up to date and conduct draw-downs to measure the yield of each well. He said it can be worth investing in such measurements while the town plans for the future.

"It's a 50-50 chance," Matthews said. "You never know when you're going to lose a well in the future for crack cases or some kind of contamination or just plain water loss."

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.