During Williamsburg County Council’s September 15, meeting water was a topic of deep conversation. Water projects have been a county-wide focus as far back as 2010 when the Kingstree East system kicked off. However, paying for some of the projects has presented financial challenges.
This resulted in the county implementing a service availability fee in 2015. The fee was imposed as a result of not meeting USDA conditions that specified a minimum number of citizens sign up for the service that would in turn generate the revenues needed to pay for the service. That same year Williamsburg County would be the first county in the nation, where the USDA provided grants to the county to offer free service connection to remaining customers.
The most recent project was discussed during council’s meeting. A resolution authorizing the supervisor to move forward on the Mouzon water project hit a temporary dead-end and was tabled till the October meeting. According to Water & Sewer Authority Director Lane Mixon, the county has had a USDA letter of conditions since 2016. The project consists of a loan of $3.1 million and a $502,000 grant. When bids were published in 2019, the county was approximately $400,000 short in funding and couldn’t award the contracts. USDA has agreed to cover overruns with a grant however, the 47 customers paying for service will not generate enough revenues to pay back the $3.1 million loan, let alone the debt payment, power bill and other associated costs such as a $1.3 million tank and $800,000 well.
Currently there aren’t enough residents to make up the difference even if the other 37 residents living in the area don’t sign up and are charged the mandatory $180 availability fee. Councilmember Eddie Woods believes it can still be done. “It puts us in a precarious position because we have told those people everything was in place to get water there to them, USDA has come through with what they’re supposed to do, everything was on line to come through,” said Woods. “I wish the engineers and stuff were here to explain because I still think this is a do-able project but what I’m hearing from you, it doesn’t make sense.”