It is unclear when the Norlina Town Board will consider a resolution related to the town’s share of additional loan for rehab of the county-owned wastewater treatment plant after frustrations about the plant’s management and town payments dominated discussion during the board’s Jan. 16 work session. 

After receiving information about the resolution during its Jan. 6 meeting, the board requested additional time for review with the understanding that further discussion might be needed before board adoption.

Users of the wastewater treatment plant — Warren County, Warrenton, which operates the plant, and Norlina — would be responsible for paying a $472,132, 20-year loan for the rehabilitation project. The Warren County Board of Commissioners and Warrenton Town Board have adopted resolutions approving their portions of the loan amount. The county’s portion is $657.50 a month, and Warrenton’s portion is $931.30 a month.

The wastewater treatment plant rehab loan was not on the agenda for last week’s Norlina work session, but Commissioner Roger Jackson asked about it during a general discussion of the town budget.

Norlina Public Works Director Blaine Reese responded by expressing frustration that because Warrenton operates the plant, it also carries the full decision-marking function in plant-related matters. He told the board that when Warrenton’s contract to run the plant ended several years ago, he pushed for the county to take over operations. However, that was not possible because Warrenton’s lease of the plant had not ended.

Reese told the board that for the past 10 years, he has requested that an oversight committee consisting of officials representing the county and the towns of Norlina and Warrenton be formed to resolve issues and to manage the plant. He would also like such a committee to be involved in determining the partners’ annual payment for use of the plant, currently calculated based upon usage.

Reese told the newspaper that Norlina currently pays between $15,000 and $20,000 per month toward the wastewater treatment plant for sewer pumped to Warrenton for treatment. Norlina also budgeted $14,500 as the town’s share of expenses related to the first phase of the rehab project.

Reese expressed concern to the board that the town would be required to pay an additional $525 per month as Norlina’s share of the loan after Warrenton received grant funding for the rehab project. He emphasized that the wastewater treatment plant needed upgrades, but explained that his frustrations lie in that Norlina was not part of the decision to enter a loan agreement. 

According to information emailed to Mayor Wayne Aycock on Dec. 4, Warrenton Town Administrator Robert Davie explained that the ongoing wastewater treatment plant rehab project costs had risen since an initial grant award, and that a low bid had come in at nearly $900,000 over estimate. After eliminating several items in the project scope, Davie indicated that the construction estimate left $472,132 not covered, which is why the rehab loan was needed. He noted that the improvements are “essential and critical” to the wastewater treatment plant, which is nearing its 40th year of operation, and that replacing the plant would cost in the tens of millions of dollars.

Commissioner Tyrone Simes said that he hoped that officials from Warren County, Norlina and Warrenton could meet together to work out issues related to the wastewater treatment plant.

Commissioner Walter Smiley said that concerns related to whether Norlina was paying more than it should toward the wastewater treatment plant dated to when he served on the town board in 1992.

Discussion about the matter concluded without mention of what to do about the loan.

Reese said that Norlina has remaining concerns that include whether Warrenton’s budget for the wastewater treatment plant is separate from that of town utilities and public works, meaning that funds designated for the plant are used solely for that purpose.

In addition, Norlina officials are concerned about how the town’s share of the loan payment would impact taxpayers, Reese said.

He re-emphasized that the town’s main request is to have a more of a say in decisions related to the wastewater treatment plant.