Trafalgar Town Council moves bulk water purchasing policy forward

Trafalgar is making progress in adopting standards for commercial water haulers who purchase water from the town.

The Trafalgar Town Council during its Thursday meeting adopted a policy to better standardize the bulk water purchasing process. The new ordinance notably requires water haulers to enter into a written agreement with the town before purchasing water.

This policy comes a month after the council held a special meeting to address concerns about the lack of accountability the town had for bulk water haulers buying water. Trafalgar had for years been on an “honor system” when selling bulk water to commercial contractors, and had no system to formally track purchases. Haulers who purchased water in bulk from Trafalgar could fill up at any fire hydrant in the town, and then call the utility office to report how much they took.

It is not uncommon for town or city utilities to sell water in bulk to contractors that fill pools, home builders, or a company that transports water to under-served areas. These contractors are buying water in thousands of gallons at a time to transport.

Some council members saw flaws in the town’s system for bulk water purchasing, and a couple speculated that some water haulers might be stealing because of the lack of a formal system. However, no proof of theft has been produced.

With the ordinance adopted Thursday, it puts into town code that all commercial water haulers are required to only fill up at the hydrant at the town water tower located off State Road 252, as it can be monitored with security cameras. Use of other fire hydrants in town is considered illegal and could result in a fine of $1,500, if violated, according to the ordinance.

A draft of a potential written agreement by the town, which is required for water haulers to sign with the town, based on the new ordinance, further details requirements for the commercial haulers. It requires all haulers to either provide their own meter, and certify its calibration with the town, or the town will provide meters to those who don’t have one.

To borrow a meter, a hauler will have to provide a deposit — which is still to be determined — with the Trafalgar Utility Clerk. Upon return of the water meter, the deposit would be refunded. If the town’s water meter is not returned within 48 hours after being checked out, the town would keep the deposit as damages.

The town is still working on how many meters it would need to purchase to lend out. Loggan Axsom, the town’s interim utility superintendent, said on Thursday that if the town wants to buy one meter for every water hauler that currently has an account with the town, it would cost around $3,000 per meter.

Meters are difficult to get right now, making them more expensive, he said.

“Meters are still an option, but that’s just very pricey, depending on how many water haulers you’ve got,” Axsom said.

The drafted agreement would also require haulers to report their bulk water purchases in writing every Monday to the town utility clerk’s office. A report would have to include the company’s name, the total number of visits to the water tower, and the number of gallons discharged for the previous week.

Town officials are still continuing discussion on the bulk water topic, and more action is expected in the coming months. The town is working on setting rates for commercial water haulers, as there are none currently. Haulers are currently being billed based on residential water rates.

The council also discussed Thursday the option of buying a fill station coin machine to place at the water tower. Haulers could use the machine to select how much water they want and prepay for the amount with coins. This would be an alternative to the town spending thousands to purchase meters to lend out, and it would eliminate the requirement to send reports to the billing clerk weekly.

Town council members agreed getting the coin machine would be ideal, but it depends if the town can afford it. Axsom said the machine would cost around $8,000 to purchase and it would cost more for installation.