The York County Council should consider condemnation proceedings against Utilities Inc., which provides water and sewer service to several communities in the county, Councilman Bruce Henderson said Wednesday.
The move is needed, he said, unless Carolina Water Service, the utility's local operator, stops providing what he called substandard services to its customers.
Henderson's remarks came at the annual State of the County address, sponsored by the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce. He was responding to a question from resident Don Long about the county's plans to buy the utility's local operations.
The breakfast, before about 75 people, focused on the county's economic development efforts and creating jobs.
County manager Jim Baker said discussions between the county and Utilities Inc. have been ongoing for years, but the two can't agree on a price.
York County staff and the County Council have not talked about condemnation, Baker said. It is a possibility, he said, but it has inherent risks - the biggest being that a court would determine the value of the condemned property.
"That's a horrendous risk to take with public money," Baker said.
In October, the state's Public Service Commission denied Utilities Inc.'s request for a rate increase, which could have been as much as 80 percent for customers, including those who live in River Hills.
The commission said the utility failed to bill customers regularly and accurately and that existing rates result in a "positive return on sales." Utilities Inc. has filed a motion for reconsideration.
Patrick Flynn, regional director for southeast operations of Utilities Inc., said, he respects Henderson's "right to give his opinion," but the utility has been offering quality service and quality water to its customers.
The utility has not had any recent conversations with county officials on the rate case or the possibility of condemnation, Flynn said.
"It's a commonly used term but a complicated process," he said. "There is a lot discussion that happens in the process."
County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell suggested York County could partner with Fort Mill in building a new water plant or build its own.
"It is impossible to know the best outcome today," he said, but he would prefer collaboration.
York County's Top 5
Accomplishments and wants presented by the York County Council at Wednesday's State of the County Address.
Economic development cooperation - Chairman Britt Blackwell called for an alliance of York, Chester and Lancaster counties to make sure state officials hear the region's needs. Councilman Curwood Chappell wants to create a York County Small Business Economic Development Commission.
"Spec" building - To attract companies, the county and York Electric Cooperative will construct the shell of an industrial building. The cooperative will pay for construction of the building, estimated at $2 million. Having a shell building would attract companies that need immediate space that can be outfitted to suit its needs, Blackwell said.
Unified Development Ordinance - The county has spent about 18 months revising development guidelines in an effort to make them more business- and user-friendly. The county wants input from everyone affected. Developer and state Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, said the county needs to schedule that input at times convenient to business owners and the developers.
Pennies for Progress - The county is examining ways to speed up projects in its sales-tax-funded road-building program to take advantage of low prices and to put more people to work. Councilman William "Bump" Roddey wants work on Albright Road, part of a previous Pennies referendum, to be completed.
Solid finance, low tax rates - While the County Council has used $30 million from the county's reserves the last three years to balance the budget, it spent only $8.2 million and reached a revenue-neutral budget in 2011, Baker said.
Not included in the budget, however, were employee raises. "We haven't built them back in yet," Baker said. Council members said their decision to lower the tax rate was a bold step and one other local governments should have followed.