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Wednesday, 29 September 2010 19:43

Whittier board in hot water with state treasurer

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The chairman of a board overseeing the water needs of just more than 100 residents in the Whittier community said people there will keep receiving the service, and that state concerns about the group’s operations are being addressed.

Whittier Sanitary District at this point contracts out sewer services to the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority. It still directly oversees the community’s water supply.

The Department of State Treasurer, in a Sept. 8 letter, warned the district “has serious financial problems which the governing board must address immediately.”

State concerns included: No budget has been adopted, the district operated at a net loss with actual expenses exceeding budgeted expenses, board members were reportedly receiving utility services free of charge as a perk, an audit hadn’t been performed as required by state law and the financial officer wasn’t bonded as the law stipulated.

Mitchell Jenkins, chairman of the three-member board, said the Whittier Sewer District does now have a budget, and that it will be adopted at next month’s meeting. Members are “not now” receiving free utilities, and the group was late getting an auditor because they were shopping around for someone affordable, he said.

Water customers, who pay $17.50 monthly to residential water service and $20 monthly for a business, don’t need to worry, the board chairman said, describing Whittier Sanitary District as “a good working system.”

Jackson County Manager Kenneth Westmoreland said he was aware of the state letter to the Whittier Sanitary District, but described the county’s role as “nebulous.”

Whittier is located in both Jackson and Swain counties. The sanitary district’s three-member board has oversight. Board members are elected, but two resigned in the past year.

Jackson County commissioners appointed John Boaze, one of those members, recently to fill one of the vacancies. He has been a sharp critic of how things are — or are not — being managed.

“I’m just hoping we can start complying with the laws of North Carolina,” Boaze said, adding that board members planned to go through the letter “point by point” during its Oct. 7 meeting.

“We need a reliable water system in this area,” he said. “That’s my main concern.”

There are also potential problems looming for the sewer-system side of the enterprise. Just 14 customers have signed on to receive sewer services through the Whittier Sewer District, managed by Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority. But, the system was intended to become self-sustaining, and shows few signs as yet of achieving that goal.

“Whittier Sewer District has not been very aggressive about soliciting customers,” Westmoreland said.

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