MOUNT PLEASANT -- Although it may lead to higher water bills, Mayor Billy Swails tonight defended his plans for $175 million in U.S. 17 improvements in the next three years as essential to the town's economic future.

Waterworks commissioners are considering charging up to $3.75 per customer for 36 months to pay the estimated $5 million needed to move its water and sewer lines out of the right-of-way for the road projects. The town has told Waterworks it can't pay the line relocation costs.

"I know you are in a dilemma for this money. They need to get the utilities out of the way so they can get to work. I know the 66,000 people in Mount Pleasant will appreciate it," Swails said.

As mayor, Swails is a member of the Waterworks commission, which met to discuss the situation. "I'm not going to apologize for accelerating everything and causing some problems. Our citizens really want to see this. It's just going to be biting the bullet for three years," he said.

Waterworks Chairman William Golightly said he was concerned that the up to 7.8 percent rate hike necessary to pay to move the utility lines would not be rescinded after three years. "Have you ever seen any temporary tax that actually went away? I don't know if the typical person is going to back us," Golightly said.

In addition, Waterworks is weighing a 4.25 percent rate increase that would be implemented next January.

A number of alternatives were discussed by Waterworks commissioners, such as delaying improvements to its Center Street plant or drawing funds for the line relocation from impact fees. Waterworks voted to hold a public hearing on June 7 to receive feedback on the possibility of paying for the line relocation with higher rates.

Read more in tomorrow's Post and Courier.