DOBSON — The town of Dobson will permanently take on the water business in the Interstates Water and Sewer District.
Dobson already has been providing the water service to the area along N.C. 89 near I-77 since pipes were run in 2010.
At Monday’s meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners, the county voted to award Dobson a lease to permanently provide water in the district.
Dobson will pay the county $1 per year to lease the Interstates water system.
Mount Airy will provide sewer services to the district by way of a sanitary sewer project which extends to the I-77 and I-74 interchanges. The split services made the decision difficult for many county commissioners.
“I think we ought to solve this and let one municipality take it all,” said Commissioner Van Tucker, who was the lone vote against awarding the lease to Dobson.
However, as Commissioner Eddie Harris said, “There’s really no easy answer here.”
When the county opted to run water to the district it was unable to come to terms with Mount Airy, which would have been the preferred provider simply due to its proximity to the district.
“In a perfect world 10 years ago, water would have come from Mount Airy,” remarked County Manager Chris Knopf.
Thus, the county switched gears. The Tobe Hudson water line was run north from Dobson. It links into the Interstates District to provide water from the town. Dobson handles all maintenance of the line, billing and other operations, while the county retains ownership.
According to Knopf, the Tobe Hudson line will be signed over to Dobson.
Handing over the Interstates system to Dobson will create a 10-percent increase in the town’s water sales, according to Town Manager Josh Smith, and the loss of the district to Mount Airy could have created other issues for the town.
“The entire system was engineered in conjunction with exit 93 (on I-77),” remarked Commissioner Eddie Harris.
Harris explained the town relies on its ability to pull water from a tank located near Pine Ridge Road when it services the water tank at Shelton Vineyards. It allows the town to perform maintenance while not disrupting water service. Effectively cutting the Pine Ridge tank off from the Dobson system could have effects on Dobson’s service.
Another concern for Harris and other commissioners was the cost associated with turning over the system to Mount Airy.
According to estimates, Knopf said there would be about $270,000 associated with infrastructure updates needed to allow the district to hook into the city’s water lines. City officials had stated the county would have to pay for the overhaul.
Knopf said county board Chairman Buck Golding met with city officials and there was some movement on getting the city to pay at least a portion of the costs should it take the water business in the district.
“In your packet you’ll see a letter from City Manager Barbara Jones,” noted Knopf. “She says it will be the administration’s recommendation the city share the costs, but the (city) board has not voted on the matter.”
In the end, a transition free of cost, with no interruption in services and no change in which entity provides the services, led four commissioners to cast votes in favor of a hand-off to Dobson. However, the arrangement does not come without some challenges.
Sewer bills are based on water usage, meaning Dobson will have to share water usage information with Mount Airy. Knopf said customers could get one bill for both services or two bills — one from each public utilities provider. It will depend on an interlocal agreement between the district and the two municipalities.
“Two entities will have to work together to bill,” explained Knopf. “We actually have that here in the county.”
Knopf cited the example of Elkin working with the Yadkin Valley Sewer Authority. While the town provides water services, the sewer authority provides sewer services. Through an interlocal agreement, the two entities work together to bill customers.
Knopf had been asking commissioners for an answer regarding which entity will take over the business since a February board retreat. He said he needed to know for budgeting purposes.
However, another matter made “time of the essence,” according to Knopf.
County Attorney Ed Woltz told the board he has been examining how to force mandatory hook-up for sewer services in the district.
“As we make decisions on mandatory hook-up for sewer in the district, it’s easier if ownership of the (water) system is settled,” said Woltz.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.