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Four locals in line for state “distressed utilities” money

Three towns and a sewer district are in line to get money from a new state fund intended to help public utilities that the local fees can no longer support.

The State Infrastructure Authority and the Local Government Commission have designated the sewer systems in the towns of Eureka, Kingstown, and the Cliffside Sanitary District, and the water and sewer systems in the town of Bethel distressed utilities. They are being considered for grants of between $100,000 and $400,000 to pay for tasks such as rate and merger studies.

Eureka and Cliffside have also received grants to cover their operating deficits.

The designations and the money spring from a law passed this year setting up a $9 million Viable Utility Fund intended to help troubled utilities become self-sustaining.

The state Treasurer’s office already controls Eureka’s and the Cliffside Sanitary District’s finances.

Aging water and sewer systems throughout the state don’t raise enough from declining customer bases to pay for operations, debt, or repairs.

“What’s happening in rural North Carolina, especially eastern North Carolina is not a revolution, it’s an evolution,” State Treasurer Dale Folwell said at a news conference Tuesday.

These four represent a small fraction of public utilities in trouble.

A study of capital cost needs highlighted in the State Water Infrastructure Authority 2017 master plan estimated $10 billion to $15 billion for water systems and $7 billion to $11 billion for sewer systems over 20 years.

Gov. Roy Cooper proposed a $800 million bond for local water and sewer projects as part of his 2019 budget. The legislature did not consider it.

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