York County leaders have agreed to extend their agreement with Carolina Water Services, which provides water to much of the Lake Wylie area, to give the two sides more time to negotiate a possible sale of the system.
The York County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an extension to the existing franchise agreement six months past the Feb. 17, 2017, expiration.
Before the vote, Councilman Bruce Henderson, whose District 2 includes the Lake Wylie area, asked County Manager Bill Shanahan to explain why the move “is the right thing.”
The county needs more time to explore its options, Shanahan said, which could include buying the utility. He said the franchise agreement, which is 25 years old, needs to be updated.
“In order to get that done, we might need a little more time,” Shanahan said. “We don’t want to be looking into something that would not benefit the citizens of York County or Lake Wylie.”
The county could make an offer to buy the system, have Carolina Water name its price and then go through mediation to determine how much the county would have to pay.
Until a court decided the outcome, the county would have to take on significant operation costs and run the system – without knowing whether it would take over the system long-term.
In another scenario, the county could name a dozen or more issues Carolina Water needs to address to continue operating the system. The county could start saving for a purchase in the event Carolina Water doesn’t meet those expectations.
After Tuesday’s vote, Henderson said the county needs to “get it right.”
“This is something that has been going on a long time,” he said, “and this is our big opportunity to get back local control.”
Henderson has said in the past he wants to be “very aggressive” in pursuing the county’s options, but neither he nor other county leaders will say if there is a front-running option.
Allison Love, who won the Republican primary last spring and does not face a challenger in November’s elections, will take Henderson’s seat in January. She already has been participating in some discussions with county leaders.
County leaders have said there is no set price tag for the utility, which doesn’t want to sell its system. Shanahan mentioned a past appraisal and a possible $15 million sale price, with as much or more county investment to improve the system. Those figures are only estimates.
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077