Our recent Upstate South Carolina monsoon season reminded me of another water-centered entity that doesn’t get nearly enough credit or discredit for incompetence, sneakiness, political-ness, lack of transparency, corporate butt-kissing and just outright failure to plan.
I refer, of course, to my local water and sewer folks. My bills are held captive by so-called “public” ownership of water and sewer. And this powerful little clique even has an alias. You can call it Spartanburg Water or, if you prefer, the Commission of Public Works. I guess, I’m a member of the ‘public’ ownership class. It’s much like buying stock in the Green Bay Packers. Theoretically I own part of the water team. It’s been in business since 1929, is allegedly run by a three-person management team and three commissioners and pays its General Manager the princely sum of $167,000 in a county with a per capita income of something over $22,000.
Here’s a couple of examples of some recent developments in the business of sewer and water that might encourage you to take a look at your own S & W locals. For our purposes, we’ll identify the public ownership by its “Commission of Public Works’ (CPW) moniker. A few months ago it was revealed that the CPW had paid $800,000 for a total of about 11 acres. The local newspaper checked its tax value. It was $137,000 at the time of purchase.
Here’s the path to purchase if you will. Some 115 acres was originally bought by a couple back in 1997 from an outfit called Oneita Industries for $100,000 dollars. Shortly thereafter (almost three months) about 15 acres was sold to an LLC for $10 (not a typo). The couple then sold 10 acres to a local Baptist church a few months later for $25,000. There may have been other transactions I’m not aware of.
The key is that an LLC is sitting on 15 acres they acquired for ten bucks. Four months later this LLC unloads that acreage for $130,000 to a mysterious private company that hides almost all of its information. Interestingly enough, the only company of that name I could track down was a boat sales and repair business out of New York. The owner of that company happens to be listed in the local media as president of the subsequent buyer from the aforementioned LLC.
The boat company, if indeed I’ve got the right one, must not be very high profile. It was founded in 1997 the same year as the described land deal. I called their listed number on the Internet and it has been disconnected. I called several boat repair companies in the area where this company was supposedly located near Brooklyn and nobody had ever heard of the company or its president. It’s a Delaware Company so I contacted their listed agent and the company name is not even on their books.
Continuing! In late June of 2008, mystery corporation sells the land to a straw company, called a ‘single purpose entity’ in response to my Freedom of Information request, (FOI) the ‘single purpose entity’ set up for the purpose of the purchase without the “public” owners knowing initially about the intended land use. The price? $800,000. A month later, CPW pays straw-boy the $800,000 back. Much of this was done in secret. The minutes of a 2007 meeting show that the GM was authorized by the commissioners to meet with the owner of the property and buy the land, but no cost, owner’s name or the specific parcel was mentioned.
When FOI’d as to why CPW camouflaged the purchase, the GM said the transaction was “set up to try to avoid unnecessarily inflating the purchase price and to shield CPW from certain liability concerns.” INFLATING THE PURCHASE PRICE? A handful of acres tax-valued at $137,000 purchased for $800,000 is not Inflating the purchase price? Apparently an OLD wooden dam (free-flowing don’t yuh know), an OLD wastewater plant; I’m betting both get torn down and replaced and an ABANDONED mill on the property commands top dollar.
Bonds, as per usual, are meeting the nut of this questionable transaction.
There is also the matter of water districts within counties. Some get the water, some get the sewer, some get their own. There are ‘Special Purpose’ districts and multiple local and state governing bodies, boards and commissioners. The system appears to be in a constant state of flux. And then there’s kissing up to the corporations, some of which have 30-year water and sewer “deals.” And the first thing the big boys demand from Economic Development is water and sewer infrastructure and how much are the BMW’s and Amazons of our world going to pay for these goodies? CPW leases BMW 20 acres on Lake Blalock for a new Communications Center for a single buck a year for the big boy standard of 30 years. That’s the kind of help you need when your market cap is only $50 billion.
There are rates for the city, for the county, for the citizen customers, for commercial, for industrial; water, sewer, sanitary sewer, filtration and treatment plants, aging, even ancient infrastructure, water regs (Clean Water Act) and health and environmental rules.
Nobody said it was easy. A Friday headline blared that no fewer that 3 sewer districts, including mine, have been the source of illegal dumping of PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls). The substance has yet to be identified and it took South Carolina officialdumb a couple of months to inform the public. And, who knows how bad it is since right-wing simpletons have bashed the regs to the point that entire years go by with no testing whatsoever as was the case from 2012-2013. The state’s Department of Health and Environmental control is such a joke that it should be headquartered in a comedy club.
The DHEC is accused of waiting as long as two months to ring the alarm that primary school children had been exposed to TB from a school employee in a community of 2,000 in Greenwood county. A total of 58 people have tested positive for TB with 8 more actually being infected. If there is a potential for individual lawsuits, the South Carolina Tort Claims Act limits the liabilities for a state agency to a laughable ceiling of $600,000 FOR ALL CLAIMS if that agency is found to be at fault. Way to go right-wing legislators. So if all hell breaks loose, the victims will be woefully under-compensated.
Yes, things continue to roll merrily along in the Carolinas, once considered the bastions of hospitality and hominess. Now, barely a day goes by without yet another embarrassment of absurd politics, agency incompetence, racism, shutting down voting and having a gun sticking out of your ear 24/7.
While Barnum insisted you couldn’t fool all of the people all the time, it was James Thurber who best described the Deep South politically, “You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.”