One week after the Norlina Town Board voted unanimously to suspend all payments for use of the county-owned wastewater treatment plant until an oversight committee is formed, the town has not budged on its demands. At the same time, the town of Warrenton, which operates the plant, has shown no interest in establishing such a committee.
In its decision, the Norlina Town Board indicated that the town would not make payments and contributions related to use of the WWTP until an oversight committee is not only formed, but also meets to clarify what is expected of Norlina, Warrenton and Warren County as WWTP partners and users.
As a result of the Norlina Town Board’s vote, town Director of Operations Blaine Reese emailed a formal request to establish an oversight committee to representatives of both Warren County and the town of Warrenton. Through the email, he suggests that an oversight committee meet on April 20 or 21 in order to begin a discussion as soon as possible.
He told the newspaper last week that concerns about Norlina’s role in connection with the wastewater treatment plant have existed for a number of years, and that it appears that Norlina is the only plant user with no say in decisions related to the plant.
These concerns came to the forefront once again in January 2020 when the Norlina Town Board considered a resolution related to the town’s share of an additional loan to cover rehab of the plant facility.
The town originally budgeted $14,500 for its share of expenses related to the first phase of the rehab project. Then the three plant users were asked to take on an additional $472,132 20-year loan for necessary improvements not covered in the original construction estimate. Users were to pay monthly shares as follows: Warren County, $657.50; Warrenton, $931.30; and Norlina, $520.60.
Reese said that the wastewater treatment plant needed upgrades, but noted his frustration that Norlina was not part of the decision to enter the loan agreement.
However, in February 2020, Warrenton Town Administrator Robert Davie appeared before the Norlina Town Board to outline the rehabilitation project. Norlina commissioners agreed at that time that repairs were needed at the wastewater treatment plant and approved the town’s monthly payment on the additional loan to begin in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
Reese said last week that the town’s concerns do not involve the loan and its payments. Again, he said that Norlina feels left out of the decision making process related to the wastewater treatment plant.
“We don’t want to dwell on the past,” Reese said. “We want a present conservation to clear things up. When you are completely transparent and (have) clarification, it makes for a good working relationship. That’s all we’re after.”
Last week, the newspaper asked Reese whether Norlina town attorney Robby May advised the board if failing to make the payments was legal, and he said that the board did not consult with May. When asked by the newspaper whether it is legal for one of the wastewater treatment plant partners to stop its contractural payments, May declined to comment.
Warren County Manager Vincent Jones told the newspaper last week that he understood the frustration Norlina officials are feeling. However, he compared the town’s role with the WWTP to the county’s role in the Kerr Lake Regional Water System in Vance County, which supplies water to several counties and municipalities in North Central North Carolina.
“Warren County is a smaller partner with the Kerr Lake Regional Water System,” Jones said. “We sometimes have to go with the decision of the larger partners or the majority…. The difference (with the WWTP) is we are all customers.”
Warrenton Mayor Walter Gardner told the newspaper that he was blindsided by the email from Reese.
“Operation of the plant is month-by-month on a user fee basis,” Gardner said. “If Norlina doesn’t participate, the operation of the plant suffers. Someone has to come up with their portion for daily operation.”
However, Jones indicated that the county would not increase its payments to make up the difference. The county manager also expressed additional concerns about Norlina’s decision to suspend payments.
“I have some concerns as a Norlina resident,” Jones said. “I would like (Norlina officials) to consider how they would feel if a resident made the same decision.”
Gardner also questioned Norlina’s decision.
“I don’t know how they think they can withhold payment for a service they use every day,” he said. “We are treating their wastewater every day under contract.”
Warrenton Town Administrator Robert Davie’s response to Reese’s email notes that Warrenton operates the WWTP under license of the state and under contract with Warren County and Norlina.
“While we operate the WWTP within the terms of the agreement, we expect all parties to the agreement to fulfill their contractual obligations in an equally legal fashion,” Davie’s response concludes.
The Warrenton Town Board held its regular monthly meeting last night, but did not discuss the WWTP.
Tuesday morning, Reese told the newspaper that Norlina stands by the two dates it is suggesting for an oversight committee meeting.