With at least 75 jobs hanging in the balance, a course has been charted for a city-county project to provide critical sewer service for an area along N.C. 89-West — but one not favored by Mount Airy officials.
During a meeting Thursday in the Municipal Building between representatives of both sides — including the city and county managers, some commissioners and municipal public works personnel — the less-costly of two options for the project came out the winner.
At least that was the result from the county’s point of view. City representatives instead favored a more-extensive — and costlier option — that would better provide for future growth along the N.C. 89 corridor west of Mount Airy.
However, a lack of county funding for the more-expensive plan and the need to move forward soon to aid private development in an area known as the Interstates Water and Sewer District were motivators for Surry’s position.
“There’s quite a few jobs sitting in the balance, waiting on an answer from the city and the county,” said Paul Johnson, a member of the Surry County Board of Commissioners.
Development is planned in the area near interstates 77 and 74, involving Brintle Enterprises and a gas-station/fast-food project, based on Thursday’s discussion. Johnson said more than 100 jobs could be affected, counting those to be created by the development as well as employees of existing businesses in that area.
The two options for the sewer service which were debated Thursday include a $2.4 million plan to allow sewage to be pumped from the Interstates district to Franklin Road in Mount Airy, where the line would connect to the existing municipal system.
Meanwhile, the other option — with a price tag of $4.5 million — called for a more-elaborate extension that also would provide service for North Surry High and Gentry Middle schools in addition to the Interstates district. That plan includes a combination of force-main and gravity lines which allows for greater growth in the targeted area than the other.
Along with a shortage of funding to complete the more-expensive option, timing also is a factor, especially with money that is already in place for the cheaper plan.
“With some of the grant money (awarded), our clock is ticking,” Johnson said. “It’s going to run out in October if we don’t have our bids ready and are ready to go.”
He added, “We (county officials) are ready to go.”
Johnson said his board wants a decision in hand by the commissioners’ next meeting on Aug. 20, when it will decide “whether to move forward or put off the project indefinitely.”
“The board as a whole kind of wants to get some closure,” County Manager Chris Knopf said of the Surry commissioners.
City Manager Barbara Jones and other Mount Airy officials present Thursday said they preferred the $4.5 million plan, even though it required some expenditure on the part of the municipality. The less-costly option would mean no city funding, only an agreement whereby the municipality will treat the waste generated and maintain the lines.
“I’m just disappointed,” Scott Graham, a member of the city board of commissioners, said of county officials’ rejection of the larger plan. “But I understand.”
The proposal backed by Surry officials will make the expansion favored by the city more difficult in the future, officials of the latter said.
It also will end up serving only about 10 customers, based on Thursday’s discussion. That prompted Jon Cawley, another city commissioner, to say, “So we’re running a line for $250,000 per customer?”
Cawley added that this ratio reminds him of the Obama stimulus plan.
But then Johnson stressed the need to safeguard the new and existing jobs with the sewer project.
If money was not an issue, the county official said he would agree with Mount Airy leaders that the costlier option would make more sense for the long run. “Unless somebody won the lottery last night, it’s not going to happen,” Johnson said.
Surry officials did say that study was devoted in recent months to trying to find money for the more-extensive proposal, but this proved unsuccessful when the 2012-2013 county budget was finalized.
“I just hate to see y’all spend two and a half-million dollars for such a limited project,” Graham told county officials.
No action on the sewer project was taken Thursday. The option supported by the county will be presented to the full city council for formal consideration at its next meeting in six days.
“We’ll just take it to our board and see what happens,” Graham said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.