ORANGE COUNTY, N.C. — Some county residents get to enjoy city services, but it comes at a cost. That cost shows up in high water bills.
Mike Garrett lives just outside of Hillsborough, but he is hooked up to the town's water system. He said he calculated the cost of tap water to the nearest penny.
"I figure I'm spending about 12 cents a flush and it's costing me $2 to do a load of laundry," he said. "I have a tight budget and it's upsetting when my daughter has to wait for her birthday present because I have to pay the town of Hillsborough $200 for water."
Caroline Phillips said her family changed its way of life because of the water bill.
"We don't water the flowers. We don't wash cars. I don't fill up the kiddie pool," she said. "I think it's unfair."
Hillsborough outlined its water billing policy in a letter to new customers. It states people who live outside town limits must pay double for water service.
"Everytime I go pay my water bill, I get angry," Garrett said.
Officials said some people have gotten so angry about their bills that signs were put up, prohibiting disruptive behavior.
"We had one to come in and threaten us and that customer was carried to court," collection clerk Christine Williams said.
The state allows municipalities to set their own rates. Places like Hillsborough use that as a way to support aging infrastructure.
"Maintaining an old system is expensive as far as upkeep and replacing old lines," town manager Eric Peterson said.
While out-of-town customers help pick up that tab, Peterson points out that they do reap benefits such as lower fire insurance rates and higher property values.
Officials said another reason for the high rates is that the town built a new reservoir several years ago, which left Hillsborough with a hefty debt. At the same time, Flint Fabrics, the town's biggest revenue source, went out of business. Peterson points out Hillsborough has not raised its water rates in three years.
Pittsboro is one of the places that charges people who live outside town limits extra for water service. Like Hillsborough, it has an old pipe system, which broke twice last week. Town leaders said they cannot afford major upgrades either.