Frankford approves sale of water plant to Artesian

Nearly four months after receiving a proposal from Artesian Water Co. for the purchase of the town’s water plant, the Frankford Town Council has voted to approve that proposal.

Artesian offered to pay the town $3.6 million for its water plant, which has been plagued in recent years by issues the Town has struggled to address with its limited budget.

Since mid-January, the Town has held a series of public meetings that gave residents and business owners a chance to hear the company’s proposal for the town’s water system and ask questions about how the proposal would impact the system’s users.

Representatives from Artesian have said rates would stay the same for a year after the purchase is completed. The current rate is $12.68 per 1,000 gallons of water used. In addition, the Town charges a $3 water service fee per month. There is a $50 per month fee for out-of-town users and, for larger users, a meter fee ranging from $150 per month to $1,500 per month for meters with a diameter of one inch or larger, depending on the size of the water meter.

At the Monday, Feb. 3, council meeting, Town Council President Joanne Bacon opened the discussion ahead of the council’s vote by saying, “We have a hard decision to make.”

Council members made brief remarks before they ultimately voted unanimously to approve Artesian’s proposal.

Council Member Skip Ash said he had asked every resident he has come in contact with in recent weeks for their input on the sale of the water plant.

“I got mixed reviews,” he said, but those in favor of the sale won out. “I’m just voting for what the people have told me,” Ash said.

Council Vice President Greg Welch said that he is fully aware that the Artesian proposal probably would not have happened if the company was not building a water facility not far from Frankford town limits that will allow the it to interconnect lines in areas it is already serving.

Welch said after the meeting that the next step in the process of selling the water system will be to draw up a final contract. The water plant is currently operated by White Marsh, a division of Tidewater Utilities. Welch said the Town “might have to buy their contract out.”

At an informational meeting regarding Artesian’s proposal on Saturday, Feb. 1, Bacon emphasized the need for the Town to start looking down the road, including developing a plan that includes, among other things, how to allocate the revenue from the sale of the water plant and what the town wants and needs in terms of future development.

Robbie Murray, president of the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company, said, “I would feel a lot better if I could see a strategic plan.”

Murray said he fears that, without a plan in place, the Town could “live high on the hog for 10 years, and in 10 years be scratching our heads,” wondering where the money went.

Bacon agreed.

“I want to protect the money as best we can,” she said.

Among the immediate items the Town would focus on would be the hiring of a town manager and possibly another police officer to join the current one-man department, which was restarted with the hiring of Chief Laurence “Larry” Corrigan.

Welch said at the Feb. 1 meeting that if the Town kept the water system, water rates would have had to go up to pay for much-needed upgrades.

“We’ve got good water, mostly,” Welch said, but he added that there are issues that can’t be put off much longer for the good of all of the Town’s approximately 350 water customers.

Artesian, on the other hand, has the resources to deal with those upgrades because of its size. The company has served communities in Sussex County for about 20 years and, with the construction of the Armory Road connection facility, hopes to continue to expand its network. As part of its proposal, Artesian has agreed to check all lines in Frankford’s system to see where there are problem areas.

 

By Kerin Magill
Staff Reporter