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Council directs manager to pursue city-county water rate equity

The Hendersonville City Council on Thursday night took a potentially significant step toward peace in the long-running and bitter water war with Henderson County.

 

After a long closed session, council members voted unanimously to direct City Manager John Connet to begin talks with County Manager Steve Wyatt on equalizing the rates the city charges city and out-of-city water customers. The city’s action could lead to a softening of the growing conflict between the City Council and Board of Commissioners over the water rates and who controls water and sewer delivery in Henderson County.
The city’s action on water came minutes after it had voted, also unanimously, to decline the county’s offer to offset the city’s cost of guarding four county schools in the city limits. The issue of who pays for the SROs was another sore point between the city and the county. During its 2018 and 2019 budget-crafting work, the City Council asked county commissioners to pay for the SROs at Bruce Drysdale Elementary School and Hendersonville elementary, middle and high schools. The commissioners said no twice, until Monday night when it said OK but with the caveat that the sheriff's office would take over the SRO work in the fall of 2020.

The City Council said the $201,455 it asked for this year was less than half the total cost. In a carefully worded statement that Councilman Jerry Smith read after the closed session, the city made clear that it was willing to talk further about a compromise.
“The City Council appreciates the offer by the county but prioritizes having Hendersonville Police Officers in the schools,” the statement said. “From the beginning, we have made law enforcement coverage in our schools a priority, and our City’s School Resource Officers have worked to establish a rapport with their students and faculty.
 
“The basis for this decision comes down to council members feeling that HPD officers should have primary responsibility for the security of the schools within their jurisdiction. Concerns about jurisdictional authority for issues that arise off school grounds and the desire to have a fifth SRO providing additional coverage at Bruce Drysdale and Hendersonville Elementary, Middle and High Schools also factor into our decision.”
Councilman Jeff Miller added that the county should in no way regard the decision as reflecting any lack of faith in the training, skill and dedication of sheriff’s deputies who serve as SROs in the other 19 county schools.
The council said nothing that addressed the contours and timeframe of rate equity. Given that 70 percent of the city’s water customers live outside the city, a rate structure that dropped outside users’ rates to the current city rate would generate far less revenue than the water-sewer system needs. The city operates both utilities as an enterprise fund, meaning the water rates, tap fees and other charges are designed to raise enough money to cover expenses, water and sewer line extensions, treatment plant upgrades and debt service. A more likely scenario for rate equity would move city and county rates toward one another, likely over a number of years.