Tega Cay is correct not to rush into a deal with the privately-owned Tega Cay Water Service

February 18, 2014 

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For those who have been calling for the city of Tega Cay to take control of the service provided by privately-owned Tega Cay Water Service, a crossroads is just around the bend.

The idea of the city expanding its public water utility – it already provides service for the newer communities in Tega Cay – has been around for several years after incidents of TCWS sewage spills into Lake Wylie reached what many residents and officials consider critical mass. After more than 250,000 gallons of sewage spilled into the lake and nearby communities since Dec. 23, including an incident in a neighborhood two weeks ago attributed to a grease buildup in the line, residents and officials are at wits’ end.

Tega Cay Water Service is a subsidiary of a corporation that services other parts of the U.S. including a Fort Mill community that had a long-standing grievance about service. The company said it would be willing to part with its Tega Cay facility for nearly $8 million.

The idea has merit. The immediate benefit of the city acquiring the utility is local accountability. Customers would have easier access to register complaints and concerns. With municipal control over service, residents have an added lever to demand satisfaction – in the voting booth. It also provides a built-in incentive for the city to control costs, a sensitive issue since the state granted TCWS multiple rate increases in recent years.

However, there is one major reason to walk away from this deal: cost. City officials said they won’t take on unreasonable debt to finance the transaction. Considering the $7.86 million asking price exceeds the city’s $6.5 million general budget for the current year, TCWS is going to have to lower its price substantially.

And it should.

One of the main reasons the company’s system malfunctions so often is the infrastructure is obsolete. After years of cajoling and negative press, TCWS has started making improvements, but a lot of costly work remains.

Which brings up another point: Even if the city acquires the utility, customers will need to manage their expectations. Certainly, no one should expect a vast improvement until infrastructure and equipment upgrades are complete.

In the art of negotiation, no one takes a first offer and Tega Cay seems correct to play it cool. If TCWS is sincere in unloading its utility, a reasonable offer will be on the table soon enough. Until then, irate customers and officials should continue ratcheting up the pressure.

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