David Williams never saw himself running for office. But after the Union County Board of Commissioners voted to increase water rates, Williams knew he had to step in.
When Williams learned of the vote Dec. 2, he assumed another Republican would step up to challenge incumbents Richard Helms and Frank Aikmus in the March 3 primary election. He called the Union County Board of Elections daily to find out if any Republicans filed. He stopped by the office after work to ask one last time on Dec. 20.
“When the clerk said no, I hesitated and I said, ‘all right, well let’s do this,’” Williams said.
With frustrations rising regarding increasing water rates and growth throughout the county, Williams believes he has a good chance in the election.
“These issues are coalescing into a perfect storm,” Williams said. “We have the primary on March 3. Water rates increased Feb. 1 and they’ll increase again Jan. 1 of next year. So really, the political dynamic couldn’t be better for a candidate that is challenging two incumbents in a primary.”
Williams said people in the eastern and central parts of the county have waited on county water for “decades.” He said they have been bypassed in favor of more residential development, which frustrates residents. As a result, residents in the Rocky River Basin have relied on private wells that contain arsenic and contaminated stormwater. Williams said these people have been told they are not going to get county water.
Williams said he has done his research to find a better alternative than raising water rates. He said the current plan the commissioners rely on, the Yadkin Plan, would not bring water to the county until 2024 at the earliest. He believes his ideas will bring the county water sooner and cheaper.
If elected, his first order of business would be to request an increase in the county’s interbasin transfer (IBT) allowance from the state’s water regulator. He said the state water regulator approves the transfer of water between basins, which, in this case, would include the Catawba River Basin and the Rocky River Basin. Currently, Union County operates on a 5 million gallon per day IBT from the Catawba to Rocky River.
“That is an incredibly small IBT allowance,” Williams said “This is shocking, but Union County has never petitioned our state water regulator for an actual, honest-to-goodness interbasin transfer from the Catawba to the Rocky River. We’re operating on a grandfathered IBT that’s been around since the 1970s or the 1980s. Union County has done a lot of growing since then.”
Union County would not be the first to request an increase. According to Williams, the state water regulator approved an increase of 14 million gallons a day to Mecklenburg County and increases to Concord and Kannapolis. He would like to request an allowance of at least 10 million gallons a day. He said this would allow the county to bring its water from where it has it to where it needs it.
Getting approval for an IBT of this size is a process that takes three to five years, possibly longer, according to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s website.
Union County has considered requesting an IBT allowance increase in the past but did not see it as a “sustainable, viable option,” said Hyong Yi, the county’s public works administrator.
Yi said there are many state and federal regulations, and the Catawba River is a “highly stressed resource” because 18 public water utilities in the Carolinas use it as their source for drinking water, including Charlotte.
Yi also said the current Yadkin Regional Water Supply Project is a more sustainable project in the long-term to meet the county’s current and future water demands, and the 2020 and 2021 water rate increases are being used to fund the project because no tax dollars are used for public utility projects.
Williams also hopes to address and manage the growth in Union County. Though he is not against growth, he would like to see the county support more commercial development so that residents can live, work and spend their money in the county, rather than traveling to Charlotte to do so.
Though there are challenges in the county, Williams still sees its strengths. He said there is a lot of talent in Union County and it has a rich history and heritage. He said this provides a good balance when looking toward the future.
While Aikmus and Helms have previously served on the board, Williams believes his experience as a lawyer and a former investment advisor separate him from the two. Williams said he can not only read and understand contracts but also interpret financial statements, which allows him to ask valuable questions.
“I’m not saying these gentlemen don’t have experience and don’t bring a lot to the table in terms of understanding county business, but I think I bring a very different kind of perspective and a different background, which is sorely needed,” Williams said. “We very much need a commissioner who will ask great questions, and I am very well prepared to do just that.”
Want to learn more?
Visit www.citizensforwilliams.com or his Facebook page, Citizens for Williams.