on December 21, 2006 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Talks in the works on restructuring the Sewer Commission

SENECA —Talks directed toward a complete restructuring of the Oconee County Sewer Commission are intensifying.

During a meeting of the Facilities & Administrative Committee on Wednesday, attorneys representing county government and the OCSC met in executive session to discuss the possibility of the Sewer Commission becoming a self-regulated body — such as a special purpose district, special tax district or some other type of authority.

Following the executive session, committee chairman Dewitt Martin announced the approval of a motion to have County Attorney Brad Norton and OCSC attorney Lowell Ross set up a meeting with representatives of the four municipalities that fund the Sewer Commission — Seneca, Walhalla, Westminster and West Union.

Martin, who is Seneca’s assistant utilities director, said the meeting with all parties probably will take place early next month to discuss the potential restructuring of the Sewer Commission.

The consensus of OCSC members, including County Sewer Director Bob Winchester, is that this transformation, if it happens at all, will not take place overnight.

Overtures for such a change in the Sewer Commission’s surfaced recently.

Just last week, County Administrator Tom Hendricks publicly brought up the issue at an Economic Development Commission meeting, noting the need for the Sewer Commission to be its own self-regulated entity.

Observers familiar with the issue say that turning the Sewer Commission into a special tax district or some other type of self-funded entity is a way of getting around a 1976 referendum approved by Oconee County voters that keeps the county from undertaking sewer expansion with the use of tax monies.

In fact, about two years ago the county attempted to construct a treatment facility plant at an I-85 “Welcome Center” with property taxes, but Walhalla resident Susie Cornelius successfully blocked the move in court by citing the 1976 referendum.

The county appealed the lower court ruling all the way up to the state Supreme Court, which also sided with Cornelius.

The court’s interpretation has forced the county to seek other funding avenues for infrastructure projects vital to drive economic development. An effort by the county to pass a 1-cent sales tax initiative Nov. 7 to help fund capital projects also was rejected by voters.