Winnsboro Poised to Close Mid-County Water Taps

WINNSBORO – With negotiations for a new contract at a stalemate, Winnsboro Town Council unanimously passed a resolution at the end of its April 1 meeting to close all valves supplying water to the Mid-County Water Company, effective April 16 at noon.

The cutoff could affect as many as 5,600 customers, as well as fire protection in the area, according to Herb Rentz, Mid-County’s manager. Kelly Miller Elementary School would also be impacted by the decision, Rentz said, as would the Jenkinsville Water Company, which purchases a portion of its water from Mid-County. Rentz said that last month, Jenkinsville purchased 100,000 gallons from Mid-County and that over the years they have purchased millions more.

The resolution to cut off water came as a surprise, Rentz said, as the two parties have been informally discussing a new agreement for the better part of a year and Mid-County has been operating under a two-month contract extension since February. While the Mid-County Board of Directors was scheduled to meet last week to finalize an agreement, Rentz said there were some delays in getting the Board together. Back-to-back severe winter storms, as well as coping with high manganese levels in Winnsboro’s water, diverted attention that otherwise would have been spent on finalizing a new agreement.

John Fantry, legal counsel for water issues for the Town of Winnsboro, said that while informal talks are fine, Mid-County was notified by mail in January that the time had come for formal negotiations and that the situation was serious.

“I would say we’ve had zero negotiations,” Fantry said. “It was languishing. We sent them a letter in 2012 letting them know that we wouldn’t just roll the same contract over. There was no attempt to do anything for nearly a year, until January. We received on March 31 the first real indication of things they didn’t like.”

The major sticking points in the new proposed contract include a rate increase from $3.75 per 1,000 gallons to $5.83 per 1,000 gallons, as well as penalties for using more water than stipulated under the contract. Fantry said the existing agreement allocates a maximum of 5 million gallons a month for Mid-County. Over the last 24 months, Fantry said, Mid-County has purchased less than that maximum only once, with their average sitting right around 6.4 million gallons a month. Mid-County is seeking even more water in a new deal, Fantry said.

“They presented what we would call an inappropriate wish list,” Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy said. “Everybody’s rates are going to have to go up, there’s no doubt about it. That was one of the reasons we spent so much time and money trying to develop a water authority, so we could all be at the table when these decisions were made.”

The Town of Winnsboro has an annual water budget of about $15 million, Gaddy said, and last year they made around $2,800 in water sales.

The deadlock also puts the Fairfield County School District at the mercy of the negotiators.

“We don’t really have a contingency plan,” J.R. Green, Superintendent of Fairfield County Schools said. “We are hopeful they will resolve the issue by the 16th. If not, there’s no way we could have school (at Kelly Miller) with no water.”

Green said he was not aware of the stalemate until he received a phone call Monday from The Voice newspaper.

“I have to take some responsibility,” Rentz said, “for not realizing that at the end of this two-month window if we didn’t reach an agreement they would actually cut our water off. We’ve been good customers for years. Paying customers.”

Rentz said the Board was scheduled to meet this week in an effort to reach a consensus before the April 16 deadline. Meanwhile, Mid-County has asked for another extension on its existing contract for one month.

“We’re going to make every effort to work with (Winnsboro),” Rentz said. “We’re going to get it done, and in a timely manner.”

A special meeting between Mid-County representatives and Town Council was scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday.

“It’s not dead,” Fantry said. “But there’s got to be a meeting of decision-makers. If there’s nobody there who can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, then there’s no real proof we won’t be right back here seven months from now.”

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