Commissioner upset over Brooks water deal

Maxwell concerned about quality of town’s pipes, potential rate increases

As requested by the Brooks Town Council, the Fayette County Commission has agreed for the county’s water system to assume operations of the rural town’s water system.

Thursday’s vote was not unanimous, as Commissioner Eric Maxwell said he was concerned about the future financial ramifications of the deal, which allows Brooks to maintain ownership of the system.

County Administrator Jack Krakeel said he was confident the county would be clearing more profit from operating the Brooks system under the contract than it currently does selling Fayette’s water to Brooks. The county would get an estimated additional $25,000 a year from the arrangement, and the cost of replacing the existing water meters with ones on the county’s wireless radio meter reading system will be about $148 each.

That cost will be recouped in the first year of operating the system, Krakeel said.

Maxwell’s concern was the lack of an analysis showing how much the county could be at risk cost-wise by assuming the duties of repair and maintenance in particular.

“I want to help Brooks out,” Maxwell said. “But I don’t want the cost to increase for other residents in Fayette County for what I believe to be a problem system.”

Maxwell said he has been told some of the Brooks water pipes have asbestos in them and must be replaced because they can’t be repaired.
“My concern is I don’t know what we’re buying,” Maxwell said.

Commission Chairman Jack Smith noted that the county can opt out of the agreement within 180 days notice for any reason. The town has a similar provision.

Otherwise the contract is slated to last for up to 49 years.

It will take about 45-60 days to switch Brooks customers over to being billed by the county instead of the city, Krakeel said.

Krakeel said at this point the county plans to set the pricing structure for Brooks to the same of that charged to current county water customers. The contract allows the county to increase that charge by up to 15 percent to recover any additional costs of the switchover, maintenance and repair of the Brooks system.

Maxwell said he didn’t want the county to be in a position of increasing Brooks’ water rates in such a manner, which he estimated will occur fairly quickly.

“I want to help but I don’t want to be the commissioner that votes a water increase for those folks,” Maxwell said.

Mayor Daniel C. Langford Jr. told the commission that the water system was first installed in 1967 or 1968 and it is still functional.

The water system will remain under ownership of Brooks, but it will be operated and maintained by the county water system.

The county has been supplying Brooks with water from the county’s system for the past several years as the town’s wells have had problems. Fayette County plans to cap the wells to close them for good, as there is plenty of capacity in the county’s water reservoirs to take on the additional 124 customers currently served in Brooks.

The agreement limits the Brooks water system to serving no more than 150 customers, officials noted.

The agreement was approved by Chairman Smith and commissioners Lee Hearn, Herb Frady and Robert Horgan.