BOONE — The Watauga County Commissioners are reluctantly dipping into the county’s general fund balance to help cover the unanticipated costs of town of Boone water and sewer fees assessed for the new county recreation center.
According to County Manager Deron Geouque, the commissioners voted after a closed session on Sept. 17 to authorize him to pay $495,305.13 to the town “under extreme protest.” The funds to pay for the budget amendment will come from the county’s fund balance, according to Geouque.
The board’s objection stemmed from the fact that the original estimation the county received from the town for the fees on June 11, 2018, was $69,382.50, which was included in the budget for the community recreation center. The county received the $495,305.13 invoice on Nov. 6, 2018 — a 613.8 percent increase, according to Geouque.
Boone Town Manager John Ward said that when the original estimate was provided to the county, town staff were using information provided by the county and their engineering firm.
“Staff did their best to provide an estimate, but it was only based on information they were provided,” Ward said. “During this same time the town was undergoing a systemwide evaluation and changing over from impact fees to system development fees.”
On June 19, 2018, the Boone Town Council voted to double the town’s water and sewer system development fees. These fees are one-time charges assessed for all new development and redevelopment in town limits as a way to pay for facilities needed to support growth or to recoup costs for existing facilities.
The water development fee increased from $3.75 per gallon per day to $7.89 per gpd, and the wastewater fee increased from $4.50 per gpd to $7.99 per gpd. The original estimate was based on the town’s old impact fee calculations, Ward said.
The $38 million rec center includes a 100,000-square-foot facility that features a wide variety of rec spaces including a six-lane competition pool, a leisure pool, four full-size gymnasiums, a multipurpose studio, events classroom, fitness center with weight and exercise rooms, two birthday party rooms and an elevated jogging track.
According to Ward, the new system development fees take the uses outlined above and calculate average daily use of gallons per day per use. He added that the new fee system resulted in a more accurate method of calculation.
“The town started requiring a set of approved building plans that were used to calculate more accurate impacts to the system,” Ward said. “The initial number that was provided was revised once more detailed and accurate information was provided via the approved building plans.”
Ward further explained that the latter calculation was based on building plans and uses and the initial estimate was not.
“The latter calculation is also based on the same schedule of uses, in gallons per day, that is adopted by the state and is based on average use of similar facilities with that same use,” Ward said.
According to Geouque, the town previously informed the county that it would not have to pay the fee until the county connected to the services. After the county connected to water and sewer services, a payment was not due until 30 days after the connection. However, he states that the county was notified that this is no longer the case.
According to a letter to Geouque from Rick Miller, the director of the town’s Public Works Department, all water and sewer utility fees — including system development fees, connection and extension fees and tap fees — are to be paid within 30 days of invoicing. This would mean the county would have 30 days from Miller’s Aug. 28, 2019, letter to pay the fee. The county could delay the payment with a 1.25 percent per month or 15 percent per year interest charge, according to Geouque.
This change was made after the Boone Town Council adopted a new code (section 50-461) on July 18 of this year, according to Miller’s letter.