IVA, SC (WSPA) –  Anderson County Council voted Tuesday to have their attorney look at legal action to collect on a debt of at least $750,000 from the town of Iva.

“The debt has probably been there and increasing for about the last 7 to 8 years,” said Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns.

The Town of Iva is operating on an old mill sewer line that can be costly, but the treatment is provided by Anderson County. Over the years, those sewer bills for the town were not paid in full.

“If I don’t pay mine it gets cut off, I pay my bill when it comes so I feel like as a community and a town we should be working to pay that debt off,” said Larry Anderson who lives in Iva.

It’s a debt that could lead the county and town into a lawsuit.

“Everbody would be curious to know where that money went, I mean I’ve known that we’ve owed the county money for many many years, but not to that extent,” Anderson said.

7News took these concerns to the Iva Mayor who told us that the town has no official comment, but included that the town is aware of the debt and knew a lawsuit could be coming.

But a lawsuit is not something the residents want to see happen.

“Where we have us paying lawyers and them paying lawyers when we could be putting that money on the bill,” Anderson said.

But council believes legal action is the only option at this point telling us they’ve tried workng with the town and now this debt will count against the county as a whole in their audit and other residents are being impacted.

“Anderson county has approximately 5,000 sewer customers and so right now there is a burden placed on the other sewer customers because of that debt,” Burns said.

The Iva mayor did tell 7News that he would consult with their town lawyer to hopefully answer the quetions on the debt from their end in the near future.

The county attorney will present the legal options including a lawsuit to Anderson County Council at the next meeting in 13 days.

The town of Iva released the following statement:

Like many small towns across the United States, the Town of Iva, a municipality of approximately 1200 residents of largely low to moderate income, has been faced with managing aging sewer infrastructure and rapidly rising sewer treatment charges.

When the current Town administration entered office in 2002, Mayor Gentry found multiple SCDHEC compliance/penalty orders on the mayor’s desk concerning previous violations at the Town’s sewer treatment lagoons. As the result of the situation left for his administration, Mayor Gentry negotiated both with DHEC and with County to find a solution for the Town. It was soon apparent that the Town’s poor financial situation at that time made it impossible for the Town to continue to operate the lagoons. The Mayor and Council made the difficult decision to close the lagoons and to purchase sewer service from the County.

At first, the County charged only for treatment costs. These proved to vary widely, seemingly based on precipitation amounts. For example, one month the County might charge the Town $20,000, and the next month $50,000 or $60,000. The Town was unable to change its customers’ sewer rates each month to account for the variances, and began to get behind. Accordingly, the Town sought engineering assistance to determine the cause of the fluctuations, and

learned that infiltration and inflow of storm and surface water into its sewer system appeared to be the source. Accordingly, the Town sought and obtained millions of dollars of grant money to help rehabilitate large portions of its system, some of which was 75-100 years old. Over time, the rehabilitation projects have significantly reduced the amount of wastewater sent to the County for treatment and have brought down the amount of monthly treatment charges.

However, in 2014, Anderson County started charging the Town a $7500 monthly “user fee.” This fee has been assessed each month regardless of whether the Town has yet sent one gallon of wastewater for treatment, and is assessed on top of treatment charges for actual usage. In other words, the County has started charging the Town $90,000 every year before treating ANY wastewater. Such a fee might be appropriate for many, if not all, of the County’s other customers, for whom the County maintains sewer lines and infrastructure. However, unlike such customers, the Town of Iva incurs the cost and responsibility of maintaining sewer lines and infrastructure for its customers.

The Town has collected sewer treatment service costs from its customers and submitted those to the County. What the Town has not done is collect the County’s additional $90,000 annual “user fee” from its customers, many of whom are on fixed incomes. The Town has done everything in its power to be able to continue to provide sewer service to its customers without imposing an additional monthly fee upon residents that truly may not be able to afford to pay almost $200 more per year when they are not actually using more sewer service. In shielding its customers from the County “user fee,” the Town has kept in mind that for some, if not many, of its residents, the cost of the County’s monthly fee

might well mean the difference between paying a sewer bill and being able to afford prescription medicine.

The Town has done nothing to conceal the ongoing issue of the $90,000 annual “user fee” imposed by the County. Each month, the Clerk has reported to Town Council in the Council’s public sessions the amount of the previous month’s sewer treatment charges, noted the monthly $7500 “user fee”, as well as that it was not being charged to Iva customers, and also provided a financial report showing the totals of the annual treatment charges, the “user fee” imposed by the County, and the amount paid by the Town.

The Town has met with the County about this issue on numerous occasions, has sought assistance from various engineering firms and municipal associations, and has requested assistance from federal agencies and elected officials; however, the County has continued to impose the $90,000 “user fee.” The Town has not sued the County over the matter, as it believes that it is important for the Town and the County to maintain a good working relationship for the benefit of all of the citizens of Anderson County. Thus, the Town is extremely disappointed to learn that the County intends to pursue legal action.”