mtairynews.com

City, county make strides on Interstates project

By John Peters

March 27, 2014

After months of posturing, of some Surry County officials seemingly intent upon forcing Mount Airy to accept the money-losing Flat Rock/Bannertown water and sewer system in exchange for the county’s cooperation on the much anticipated Interstates Sewer Project, both the city and county commissioners met Wednesday night to discuss the two projects.


And everyone made nice.


In fact, Surry County Board of Commissioner Chairman Eddie Harris said the county would not attempt to force the city’s hand, and that the county would do whatever is necessary to make the Flat Rock/Bannertown project profitable so that the city would take over its operations.


That water and sewer project is losing around $66,000 a year, in large part because when the county paid for water and sewer service to be extended there, it did so without requiring hook-ups or non-user fees. Not enough people signed up to pay the basic annual debt service and operating expenses, thus the county had a money-losing operation on its hands.


Meanwhile, the city and county have been working together to secure grant funding, easements, and attend to other details to extend water and sewer service west of the city, serving existing businesses and provide the necessary utility service to spur economic growth in this region of the county. It could also provide sewer service to Gentry Middle and North Surry High schools.


A wrench seemed to be thrown into the works recently when the county drew up a draft agreement with the city as one of the last steps toward making the Interstates Sewer Project a reality, but included the city’s takeover of the Flat Rock/Bannertown system as part of that agreement, without first seeing if the city would be open to such a move.


Then some county officials made public comments that in essence seemed to say they weren’t really interested in moving forward on the Interstates project unless the city would bail them out of the losing Flat Rock/Bannertown system.


This, understandably, rankled some city commissioners, who still questioned the county’s actions last night even after Harris took a more conciliatory tone.


Nevertheless, the county has now said it would do whatever necessary to make the Flat Rock/Bannertown project work for the city, even going in and requiring hook-ups, and offering to be the enforcement arm of such an agreement.


This was definitely a positive move, and we believe it shows the county is serious about two things. First, it wants to get out of the water and sewer business, even if that means doing the extra work in the short-term to make Flat Rock/Bannertown profitable for the city to take over.


Second, it shows that county officials want to do whatever is necessary to move ahead with the Interstates project and the hoped-for economic development — and jobs — that could follow.


We think this is a good step, and while we believe the city should still be cautious and ensure its residents aren’t holding the bag when it comes to paying for Bannertown/Flat Rock, the open and conciliatory nature of Wednesday night’s meeting is certainly a good step for both the city and county.