A Message from our Chairman of the Commission of Public Works, City of Spartanburg
Full text of Chairman John Montgomery's speech September 24, 2019:
More than 40 people have asked to speak during the public comment portion of this meeting. Most own property adjacent to Lake Bowen, Lake Blalock or Reservoir #1.
As adjacent lake property owners, they are required to comply with the rules and regulations set forth by Spartanburg Water System to protect the water sources that serve more than 200,000 customers. Yet many of them are not in compliance.
For months, they have been harsh critics of Spartanburg Water System. At a variety of forums, including at the recent City Council meeting and the August Water Commission meeting, they have criticized our CEO, our board, our policies and our financial performance.
Fact is, all anyone at Spartanburg Water System is trying to do is get adjacent property owners in compliance the rules and regulations that protect water quality and lake recreation.
For those not wanting to comply, I guess any of us can be seen as an enemy, as we work with them to comply.
In attacking our performance and leadership, this group of disgruntled lake property owners has told many lies or half-truths. We are here today to help set the record straight. But first, let’s put this group of citizens into proper perspective.
There are roughly 1700 adjacent property owners along our source lakes, some of whom are Spartanburg Water customers and some who are not. The lake residents represent less than 1% of the Spartanburg Water customer base. While we want to hear their concerns, and will work with them personally to help address them, we are not going to base policy decisions on the lifestyle desires of less than 1% of those served. That would be extremely unfair to the other 99 percent of our customers.
The water system began stepping up enforcement nearly two years ago, due to rapid real estate development near the lakes, in an effort to maintain water quality and recreational use.
You will hear it said today that Spartanburg Water has drafted 84 pages of new rules and regulations for the adjacent property owners to adhere to, and that the rules and regulations infringe upon their rights to access the waterways. That is simply not true, almost all of the rules and regulations have been in place for decades.
All Spartanburg Water did was provide them in summary form. It takes that many pages to clearly define property owner compliance guidelines and expectations, and the actions associated with non-compliance.
As mentioned in the past Commission meeting, and in a recent press release, Spartanburg Water has received feedback on these draft rules and regulations and will be working with staff and individuals to ensure the rules are fair and balanced.
They also claim that the rules and regulations have little or nothing to do with ensuring quality drinking water, and that somehow they, and not our on-staff experts, know what is best for the protection or our drinking water sources.
Let’s be clear. Spartanburg Water owns the buffer zone around all three source lakes. Anyone that wants access to the lakes from their adjacent property most go through property owned by Spartanburg Water.
There is no God-given right to access the lake property, or to do things to Spartanburg Water’s property, such as cutting down trees, re-grading Spartanburg Water property, cutting down or clearing native brush that helps filter rain run-off.
Some of these activities can be allowed and are allowed, but only by going through the proper approval channels.
One speaker at a recent meeting made this statement: “In many cases, the SWS buffer goes into people’s yards, and in some cases into their homes.”
The only reason such a situation would exist, is if homeowners built their home or outdoor fixtures on property already owned by Spartanburg Water. It’s that simple.
Let’s also be clear that every one of the rules and regulations is about protecting water quality and affordability. For example, when the number or size of docks is limited, it has to do with controlling the amount of oil and gas released into the water by boaters. When we restrict property owners from mowing or placing permanent structures in the buffer area, it is to maximize the filtration of contaminants.
I also want to take a few minutes to address a comment made by a speaker at the City Council meeting, that “Spartanburg Water is a half billion dollars in debt.” As you can see from the presentation Newt gave earlier, that is not even close to being true.
Actual outstanding bond debt as of June 30th was approximately 166 million dollars, and that is not out of line with the debt carried by other water utilities of similar size.
Several critics have painted a picture of poor financial decision-making and poor financial health by Spartanburg Water. Again, this is not true.
In fact, the water system has won numerous recent awards for having a strong financial foundation. And Moody’s has just increased the Spartanburg Water bond rating to Double A.
Don’t believe it when those with a selfish interest in disparaging Spartanburg Water tell lies to make the utility sound like it has financial management issues.
Of course there are financial challenges, as with all businesses. But Spartanburg Water has a solid financial foundation and our customers are reaping the benefits.
There are two other recent comments made by disgruntled lake property owners that I would like to address today.
The first is that adjacent lake property owners are taxed to the water line instead of the 827 line. That is simply not true. And if it were true, the County, and not Spartanburg Water, would be responsible for addressing this matter.
The other is they don’t think it’s fair that County water customers like them pay more than City customers, yet they have no representation on the Commission of Public Works.
The answer is simple. The people of the City of Spartanburg, not Spartanburg County, own the water system, and the owners of the system receive a rate break.
This is consistent with many water utilities around the state.
Out-of-city residents are customers, not owners. They cannot run for City Council or the Water Commission, and their taxes are not involved in the day-to-day management of our water resources.
As mentioned before, the Commission of Public Works is committed to the Spartanburg community and will continue to strive to provide safe, quality drinking to its 200,000 customers.
It is my hope we can move beyond individual attacks on the Commission and the dedicated staff of Spartanburg Water and get back to business as usual.
We will continue to work with individual property owners on property and shoreline issues and hope to find a positive resolution in the weeks ahead.