Ridgeway looking to change sewer rates

RIDGEWAY – Ridgeway Town Council held an emergency meeting at 3 pm on Friday, Oct. 1, for the purpose of discussing an amendment to the Town’s ordinance prescribing rates and regulations for the Town’s waterworks and sewer system.

The meeting was called by council member Rufus Jones on behalf of a sewer customer who, he said, needed to have a clogged line cleaned out. The clog, Jones said, was in a section of the line beyond the customer’s property line. The emergency, he said, was because the customer, who Jones did not name, is a “hardship case” who cannot afford to have the line cleaned out.

According to the town’s Ordinance 3-1007, which has been in effect since 1989, Ridgeway sewer customers do not pay a tap fee, but are responsible for installing and maintaining their lines from their residences and connecting to the Town’s main sewer line, which can be buried underneath the street.

 “I don’t think it’s right,” Jones said. “In my opinion, the landowner should only be responsible (for sewer lines) to their property line and the town should pay for the leak (beyond the customer’s property line).” He said he spoke with two contractors who agreed with him.

The Town’s Ordinance 3-1007 was established in 1989 when the Town of Ridgeway used proceeds from $204,000 Waterworks and Sewer System Revenue Bonds to help finance the improvement and extension of its existing waterworks and sewer system. 

To accommodate the “hardship case,” several changes to the ordinance were discussed in Wednesday’s meeting. One was to no longer charge a customer for the cost of repairing a sewer line blockage from the sidewalk (or property line) to the Town’s main line. The Town of Ridgeway would be responsible for clearing a blockage or repairing that section of the line when necessary.

Councilman Prioleau agreed that if a customer has a clog or repair beyond the property line they should not have to bear the cost

It was also discussed to charge new customers a tap fee and require the property owner to bear the cost of connecting the customer’s new sewer line into the town’s main line.

Councilman Jones argued that the Town of Ridgeway does not provide garbage service and only partial police coverage and that currently “all we get is a streetlight” from the Town, so paying for sewer repair beyond the customer’s property line would be a benefit to the residents.

Councilwoman Belva Bush Belton asked for the “logistics of all of this to be explained better,” and for council to consult an expert regarding the issue.

Mayor Cookendorfer suggested that the Town first be responsible for trying to clear the blockage at the Town’s expense.  If replacement of the line were necessary, that expense would also fall to the Town. 

After further discussion, council informally decided to change the current ordinance by adding verbiage to Section 13 that would charge new residential sewer customers a tap fee of $1000 and charge commercial connections a tap fee of $2000. 

Cookendorfer added a request to change Section 14 to indicate that existing and new customers would be responsible for sewage lines from the house to the sidewalk (or property line) and that the Town of Ridgeway would be responsible to maintain the sewer line from the sidewalk or property line to the Town’s main sewage line.  

Referring to the “hardship case,” Jones requested something to happen quickly. He also suggested that the Town pay for the unnamed customer’s line repairs and bill the customer back with anticipation of a payment plan. 

But South Carolina law prohibits the town to appropriate public funds or anything other than a public purpose. (See 63C Am Jur 2d Public Funds section 58.) “The benefit to the public must be primary or direct and not merely incidental.” (See 63C Am Jur 2d, Public Funds section 60). “This rule of public purpose and primary benefit to the public applies even if the funds have been derived from sources other than taxation.” (See 63C Am ur 2d Public Funds, section 58) “All funds of the municipality should be considered (and treated) as public funds regardless of source.”

Cookendorfer encouraged Jones and Town Clerk, Vivian Case, to draft a recommendation for the ordinance and get back in touch in 48 hours.

Bush Belton expressed concern that she felt an attorney should be the one to make adjustments to the ordinance, and that “we need to follow the rules and regulations of the (Municipal) Association and to stay within compliance.”

Cookendorfer requested another special meeting for Tuesday Oct. 5 at 5 pm be called to vote on the first reading for a new ordinance. He said he would like to have the second reading and a vote two days later. 

 The SC Code of Laws – Section 5-730, 5-7-160 states that, “No ordinance has the force of law until it has had at least two readings on two separate days with at least six days between each reading.”

Section 6-1-330 requires at least a 15 day period prior to a public hearing for a new service or for a user fee to be imposed by ordinance adopted by a positive majority following the public hearing.

When asked how the town would pay for this change in sewer service, Cookendorfer replied, “We haven’t voted yet.”  

As of Wednesday, no meeting had been scheduled.

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