Mount Airy officials approved their part of a city-county agreement to extend sewer service to the Interstates District Thursday afternoon, but rejected last-minute changes sought by Surry leaders.
The city’s action, including the providing of $1 million toward the expansion’s roughly $5 million cost, also will be rescinded if the work is not sent out for bids by Dec. 31, officials decided.
And in the process Thursday, some harsh words were leveled toward Surry County — the lead agency in the deal — over the way the project has been handled, including numerous delays in bringing it to fruition.
“I’m appalled at how long it has taken to get to this point,” Shirley Brinkley, one city commissioner, said of an effort that has been in the planning stages for years. Although no county officials were in attendance when the city council met Thursday, Brinkley said in offering her remarks, “I would love for the county to be sitting here, because I would like to talk to them.”
Brinkley said it appears to her the county has purposely sought ways to circumvent launching a project that will aid businesses in the area where interstates 77 and 74 converge with N.C. 89. It also will serve others in need of the municipally provided sewer service along the N.C. 89 corridor, including North Surry High and Gentry Middle schools.
“It looks like the county is trying to find a way out,” Brinkley said.
The latest roadblock surrounds changes in the official agreement that representatives of both sides — including Brinkley as a member of a city water and sewer committee — met last week to finalize. After various amendments were incorporated, the pact then was to go to each board of commissioners for action, which was the case with Mount Airy Thursday afternoon.
But after their discussion on the arrangement in a meeting Tuesday night in Dobson, Surry County officials asked the city for changes in what had been agreed upon last week — both money-related.
This included a request that the city government pay the $1 million in a different way than planned, which includes $200,000 installments supplied over five years. Instead the county asked this week for two installments of a half-million each in two consecutive years, the first to be paid during the fiscal year in which the project begins.
Another deviation from last week’s meeting centered on an understanding that Mount Airy’s contribution will be reduced if the project — being funding by multiple federal and state grants in addition to local input — comes in under budget. This called for any savings to be shared proportionately between the county and city.
“The county requests that the city make a $1 million contribution towards the project regardless of final project expenditures,” states a memo released during Thursday’s meeting.
However, this did not go over at all with the city commissioners, who voted 4-0 Thursday (with Jon Cawley absent) to approve the agreement from last week, rejecting the latest changes sought by the county government.
The proposal agreed to Thursday did include the city’s stipulation of the deadline regarding its participation, including the $1 million allocation it first offered more than two years ago. “This project shall be out to bid before Dec. 31, 2014, or this resolution expires,” it states.
Also specified in the resolution OK’d Thursday is the construction of a combination force-main/gravity sewer system, which will be more conducive to tap-ons by users along N.C. 89-West, including the two schools. Surry County originally had sought a straight-shot force-main system from the existing city sewer main at Toast to the Interstates District.
City officials rejected that two years ago when allocating the $1 million, due to concerns that the county’s choice would not allow properties in between to hook up without a major expense.
“The city had concerns with potential odor problems in the Toast area where there are restaurants, due to the length of the force-main, and felt it was short-sighted planning,” the city resolution approved Thursday states.
Commissioner Brinkley said the significance of Mount Airy’s $1 million investment should not be downplayed. “This is the taxpayers’ money,” she said.
While city property owners must pay county as well as municipal taxes, the county government will reap the taxes from any new businesses that result, Brinkley said, and there also will be savings realized from replacing the present treatment systems for the two schools.
Other council members just seemed glad Thursday to see the sewer expansion finally reaching a resolution.
“It’s a pleasure to see that get to this point,” Commissioner Jim Armbrister said of the project, adding that it will benefit citizens.
Also Thursday, the city commissioners:
• Voted to set term limits for members of a new redevelopment commission. Those serving on that group, created during the spring to identify blighted commercial properties in the city and devise ways to improve them, will have staggered terms. No member will serve more than two consecutive terms.
The format includes members being appointed to staggered five-year terms, but some were not approved for that length of time initially. Terms for the five citizens at large on the group will expire in each of the next five years, through 2019, but presumably they will be reappointed as that occurs under the staggered format.
Those on the group agreed on that format during a recent meeting and volunteered for the increments, under which the term of Alton Gaither will expire first, in 2015.
• Appointed Tommy Brannock as a new member of the Mount Airy Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which recently lost a member with the death of J.D. Bartley, who served as its chairman. The move to replace Bartley also included the naming of another veteran member, J.T. Palmer, as chairman.
The ABC board oversees the operation of Mount Airy’s liquor store on Starlite Road.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.