Greenville Utilities Commission has explored a takeover of the Town of Bethel’s water and sewer systems for two years.

Before further discussions occur, GUC needs to know the physical condition of the system, CEO/General Manager Tony Cannon said.

GUC’s Board of Commissioners on Thursday adopted a resolution supporting the town’s effort to secure a state grant that would pay for that assessment.

“We did a high-level assessment a couple years ago and what the result of that showed is there are some significant investments that need to be made in Bethel and we need to prioritize those investments,” Cannon said.

GUC needs more details about what work is needed before it can take over the system, he said.

Bethel sought a grant last year but did not receive it. Officials were told their application would have a better chance if state officials knew GUC would be involved in its management.

“You are not committing to anything; all we are saying is we are considering this and need (to do) further work,” Cannon said.

Adopting the resolution of support shows GUC is committing to lending its management structure to Bethel to oversee the assessment, which would be done by a private company, he said.

Cannon said the assessment would take eight to 12 months. The grant application deadline is late September, so the awards will not be announced until the end of this year or the beginning of 2020.

“Bethel is very anxious for this to take place. To be quite honest, Pitt County needs this,” Cannon said.

The future Interstate 87, which will follow the existing U.S. 64 route between Raleigh and Williamston and then pick up U.S. 17 to the state of Virginia, will be just outside of Bethel, Cannon said. Ensuring the availability of water and sewer service in that area will promote future growth.

GUC also sells water to the town and processes its wastewater; this step gives GUC ownership of the distribution system.

“We think over time this mean we can get their rates into much better shape than they are know,” Cannon said. Bethel utility users pay $93.90 monthly for water, sewer and garbage pickup, according to town staff.

When water and sewer usage exceeds 1,000 gallons, customers pay an additional .0068 cents per gallon.

“I’ve made it clear to them we will have to have the ability to set the rates,” Cannon said.

According to the State Demographers Office in the N.C. Office of Budget and Management, Bethel’s population in 2017 was 1,551. Cannon said the are about 850 customers on the town’s water and sewer system.

Greenville City Manager Ann Wall, said she supports GUC’s efforts but questioned the project’s estimated $250,000 price tag since the town is small.

Cannon said that while the customer base is small, it is spread out. There also is not a lot of detailed mapping of the system.

The GUC board also approved its nearly $260.9 million budget for fiscal year 2019-20.

The budget includes a 7 percent increase in the water rate. The electric, sewer and natural gas rates are unchanged, Cannon said. The increase means the average residential water customer will see their monthly bill increase by $2.40, going from $34.22 to $36.62.

The budget commits $500,000 to a public-private economic development partnership being created by GUC, the City of Greenville, the Committee of 100 and other municipalities in the county. It includes transfers of $6.6 million to the City of Greenville and a $150,000 transfer to the city’s housing energy conservation program.

The budget also includes an $11.4 million investment in capital outlay and an $8.25 million transfer to the utilities’ capital projects fund.

Staff will receive 2.7 percent raises and the continuation of employee health and dental plans.

The board also said good bye to departing members Rebecca Blount and Don Mills, who are stepping down after serving six years on the board.

“I am a customer, I am a mom, I am the one who sits at the table and pays the bills,” Blount said. “And I keep that in mind when I sit here.”

Blount she’s appreciative of the services GUC gives the community.

“I don’t think people realize how blessed we are that we have clean water,” she said.

“The skill and expertise of GUC employees is its strength,” Mills said.

The Greenville City Council this week appointed Peter Geiger and Lindsay Griffin to the seats.