Aug 052013

Union County favors privatizing its wastewater treatment plant operations to solve problems, even though the state said plant operations are working well.

Union County Public Works Director Ed Goscicki said the treatment plant needs to be more reliable. N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Division of Water Quality inspectors found a list of problems during a January visit to the plants. He feels that privatizing operations is the best way to fix those problems.

The 12 county treatment plant employees are upset. They might not be hired on by the company the county chooses to contract with. Even if they did keep their job, they will lose their current health and retirement benefits.

But their biggest complaint is that staff has tried all along to follow state standards and worked hard along side state officials to improve plant operations.

DWQ is not mandating the county transfer of control of operations , DWQ Spokeswoman Susan Massengale said. There was never an investigation into Union County WWTP operations. A 2012 violation was the only operations problem with Union County in almost five years, Massengale said.

“There was an unacceptable result for chlorine back in July, but that was really just a result of staff getting their house back in order,” she said.

But six months ago there was a communication problem between county and state officials that prompted talk of shutting the plants down.

Each year, certified labs must submit samples to be tested for certain substance concentrations.

“As a certified lab, they must run tests periodically to ensure their testing equipment is running properly,” Massengale said.

In 2011, DWQ sent Union County notice that they needed to test for phosphorous. That letter went without a response. John Hahn was plant superintendent at the time. The state expected Hahn to submit the test results or explain why they had not been done. But Hahn went two years without testing for phosphorous.

In 2012, the state received no test results for water conductivity. The state decertified the laboratory at the Crooked Creek WWTP to test for phosphoros and conductivity.The state required them to cease testing for 60 days. But Hahn did not tell his staff, so testing continued.

Early in 2013, DWQ officials traveled to Union County and met with Hahn and Public Works management. At the end of their Jan. 30, 2013, meeting, county and state officials signed an agreement to fix all the problems that inspectors found inside the plant. Water and Wastewater Division Manager Michael Moler agreed to voluntarily suspend testing for six parameters and contract an outside company to perform testing until problems were resolved.

via Goscicki: Privatization best for sewer plants | The Enquirer Journal.

Nov 302011

A week ago, County Commissioners voted to approve what is laughingly called a lease extension — a net 75 year lease that only resembles a sale.

Lets put the lease document aside for the moment and just look at the initial cash windfall into county coffers. According to the new contract, Union County will receive a lump sum of $54 million in January 2012.

The following WSOC-TV news-clip lays out a couple ideas.

So the $54 million question is just what to do with that all money??? Project Legacy? Project Iron-horse? or Frank Aikmus’ Project Tax Break! (visit Frank’s Facebook page: Citizens for Union County Tax Relief)

Commissioner Todd Johnson (Vice Chair) alludes to other ideas as quoted in the WSOC-TV report; “There are other issues that we need to worry about, different capital improvements.” Johnson said, “There’s also debt.”

According to the WSOC-TV report the question of a tax-cut will be on the Dec. 5 Commissioners agenda.

Stay tuned…

Oct 262011

Commissioners Johnson and Thomas lambasted the Weddington Council over failure to support a Providence VFD merger and asking County to support resolution.

Video runs 16 minutes. Public comments by Mayor Anderson and Mayor Pro Tem Dan Barry, followed by commissioner comments from Commissioners Kuehler, Johnson, Thomas and Simpson.

Editors Note: This post is still in the works, but I wanted VSO readers to see their county government in action.

Jul 242011

By George Hendry

Shortly after the November elections for Union County Commissioner one of the three winning candidates Mr. Jerry Simpson closed out his campaign account on November 24, 2010.

The other two winning candidates Mr Todd Johnson and Mr Jonathan Thomas chose to leave their campaign accounts open and they remain open to this day.

In December 2010 after the elections were over, both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Thomas recieved $12,000.00 in their campaign accounts in the form of three $4000.00 checks each. Two were from the principals of Boggs Paving (Mr. David Boggs, $4000 to Mr Thomas and Mr. Drew Boggs, $4000 to Mr Johnson). The remaining four checks were from three principals of two associate firms with Boggs Paving for the Monroe By-Pass bid as follows, Mr. Jim Triplett of Charleston, SC ($4000 to Mr Thomas and $4000 to Mr Johnson), Mr. Doug Anderson of Old Town, FL ($4000 to Mr Thomas) and Mr. Brian Schreiber of White Springs, FL ($4000 to Mr Johnson). The campaign account records indicate all checks were received between Dec 7 and Dec 28 when both Mr Thomas and Mr Johnson were now sitting Union County Commissioners.

Assuming this issue comes to a vote before the Board of County Commissioners we do not know at this time how Mr. Thomas or Mr. Johnson may or may not vote assuming they do not recuse themselves. Since this is money given to a campaign account and not personal there is no technical reason to recuse themselves.

However this is a moral question that must be raised everytime a candidate or elected official receives money from a special interest. Why give the money if not wishing for favorable consideration on current and future issues that may come to the Board of County Commissioners and why accept the money if you don’t intend to try and help this special interest, if at all possible, on issues of their concern.
It will be interesting to watch how this plays out in the coming months.

New Kohls – Under construction on Rea Road.
Note: One of the 5 members of the Planning Board who approved this development (Jan 2011) is a high ranking employee of Boggs Paving.

Jul 082011

An Updated County Fire District Map Will Help Save PVFD
By Walker Davidson

The Providence Volunteer Fire Department (PVFD) station is not in compliance with safety regulations regarding the overnight stay of fire fighters. PVFD estimates it will cost $450,000 to make the building compliant. Until PVFD gets funding for the improvements, fire fighters will not be allowed to stay at the station overnight. This will lead to longer response times to emergency calls during the overnight hours in the Weddington area.

For many people this increase in response time is unacceptable. These people understand the consequences of help arriving too late on a 911 call. Judy Johnston is one of these people.

Judy Johnston lives in Weddington. Her son is a volunteer firefighter at PVFD. After the Weddington town council denied PVFD its request for $450,000 for the building improvements, Judy began a campaign to inform citizens of the situation. She has talked with a lot of people, created a web site (, and distributed literature.

I can appreciate Judy’s frustration with the town council. The town council has accumulated $2.5 million over the years with no long term plans for the use of the excess funds. The council recently approved $20,000 for a festival and spent $200,000 on decorative streetlights. Given these other spending items, it is difficult for some to accept the council’s decision regarding the $450,000.

However, even if the town council approved the $450,000, that action alone would not address the main problem. PVFD does not generate enough fire fee revenue to pay its annual operating expenses. The town council cannot fix the problem.

The county is the taxing authority for the fire districts.

Some people feel that a merger between PVFD and Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department (WCVFD) would solve the funding problem. While this seems like an easy solution, the path of least resistance often leads to a dead end. The merger will effectively wipe out PVFD. All control of the station would reside with the board of the WCVFD. I prefer to have people who live in Weddington serving on the board that controls fire service for the people of Weddington. I feel confident having Weddington citizens such as Jack Parks, Heather Perryman, Scott Robinson, and Ken Evans on the board at PVFD. I would like to see Judy Johnston on the board one day.

The funding problem at PVFD may be alleviated by an update to the county fire district map. The fire district map is out of date and inefficient. The map should be updated based on response times. School district maps and voting district maps are updated periodically as the county changes. The county fire district map should follow the same process.

Weddington is one area of the county that would benefit from an updated map. There are many neighborhoods in Weddington that should be assigned to PVFD. The Williamsburg neighborhood is one of the most obvious.

Williamsburg is in the WCVFD district despite the fact that it is much closer to PVFD. The property owners in Williamsburg pay taxes to WCVFD. When a 911 call comes in from Williamsburg here is what happens. If it is a call for a fire, both PVFD and WCVFD will respond. Odds are that PVFD will arrive first. If it is a medical call, for some reason that I don’t understand, PVFD is NOT allowed to respond. Only WCVFD is allowed to respond. This protocol will likely result in a longer response time than is necessary.

The same situation applies to the following neighborhoods: Beulah Oaks, Waybridge, Weddington Heritage, Greystone, Weddington Downs, Gatewood, and Hadley Park.

An updated map will improve response times in the Weddington area, may allow PVFD to collect enough tax revenue to pay its annual operating expenses, and allow the citizens of Weddington to maintain control of PVFD. Citizens who want to save PVFD should ask Union County Fire Commissioner Jonathan Thomas to take action to update the county fire district map.