While Surry County is just now moving forward on the long-awaited interstate sewer project, county officials are looking for ways to get out of the business of providing water to that area of the county.
The commissioners recently discussed whether to hand-off the water services to Mount Airy or Dobson, running through the pros and cons of each, and the decision seems, at this point, to be fairly clear which would be best for the county.
First, though, it’s important to highlight a little bit of revisionist history the commissioners engaged in during the meeting.
The commissioners several times referenced “drama” they said was caused by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners in the interstate water and sewer project, which hooks onto the city’s sewer system.
With all due respect, whatever drama took place in that years-long negotiations took place in the Surry County commissioners meeting room.
In addition to the on-again, off-again nature of the project, with the county dragging it out for nearly two decades, once it appeared the project was close to fruition Surry commissioners began throwing up road block after road block.
First, they demanded the city take on the horribly managed, money-losing Flat Rock water and sewer system as some sort of package deal with the interstate system. After city officials rejected the measure — as they should have — the county commissioners acted as if it was the city causing all of the delays and problems with the project.
Then, after the county pushed off the project yet again, city officials (who had pledged $1 million to the project), set a deadline for the county to either proceed with work or the city was pulling out. Again, this was a step the city took after begin strung along repeatedly, and city officials finally had enough. Even here, the city gave Surry County time past the deadline to secure the last of the easements needed for the project.
Even after the project was approved and all the money in place, the county board has continued squabbling, with Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding refusing to sign any of the documents necessary for the project, essentially forcing the board to choose another member to do Golding’s job.
The one legitimate beef Surry might have with Mount Airy in the interstate sewer project was mentioned by Golding, who said the county was caught off-guard when Mount Airy officials decided to pay out its $1 million contribution in annual $200,000 increments.
While paying out such contributions in annual installments isn’t unusual for local government, the fact is Mount Airy is sitting on a massive budget surplus, with nearly enough money in the bank to operate for a year without any revenue coming into city coffers. Mount Airy could have afforded to pay the $1 million upfront. Then again, maybe city leaders didn’t want to hand over $1 million, only to see the project — and city money — languish for years.
Nevertheless, most of the delays and drama swirling around the interstate sewer project has firmly rooted in the county board of commissioners, and to say otherwise is simply twisting the truth.
Having said all of that, now that the project is moving ahead, and since county board members don’t want to actually manage their own water system, Surry commissioners have to determine which municipality to allow to take over the water system, we agree with Eddie Harris, who said moving forward with a partnership with Dobson is a “no-brainer.”
Mount Airy wants the county to spend $270,000 to upgrade the system before taking it over, and its rates are a fair bit higher Dobson’s.
Dobson will charge lower rates and doesn’t need the system upgrades.
Unless Mount Airy is willing to make some changes to its expectations, it would seem county residents using that water system would be much better off if the county hands it over to Dobson.