DOBSON — It took more than a dozen years, countless hours of staff time by county employees, lobbying by business owners, five minutes of discussion and a rapid-fire vote, but the project that will extend sewer service to the junction of the county’s interstates down N.C. 89 will be a reality.
On a split vote, the Surry County Board of Commissioners gave the nod to provide the final funding necessary to get work started on the Interstates Sewer Project last night.
The surprise vote came as the board met for its regularly-scheduled meeting in the County Government Center in Dobson.
The $4.6 million plan, which will extend sewer service to the Interstates 77 and 74 areas west of Mount Airy, seeks to stimulate growth in what officials have identified as a prime development area near the two highways.
The city has pledged $1 million to the project, provided the county uses the combined system, which would offer more capacity and the ability to connect Gentry Middle and North Surry High schools to the service.
In addition to the $1 million in funding pledged to the project by Mount Airy, the county has secured $1 million in funding from the Rural Center, and an additional $300,000 in funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, $200,000 from the Golden LEAF Foundation, $150,000 through a federal Community Development Block Grant, and a pledge of about $160,000 from property owners in the district.
That leaves about $2.5 million, when all is said and done, that will have to be paid by the county, Knopf said, noting that the county will most likely have to take on more debt to pay for the project.
The county was facing an April 19 deadline to finalize approval of all funding for the project.
While the board gave its blessing to funding the project, the vote was split 3-2, with Board Chair Eddie Harris and Commissioner R.F. “Buck” Golding opposing.
Addressing the project, Commissioner Paul Johnson said the county has saved money over the past several years, and urged the board to provide the final $2.5 million in funding if grant or other monies are not available.
“This board has done a good job of saving the county money, and we have $2.5 million in escrow,” he said. “All of this money doesn’t have to come in the form of taking on new debt.”
But Golding said he opposed taking on any more debt in the current economic climate.
“It’s all about money,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t want to do it.”
Johnson countered that the potential economic development in the area is worth the financial investment.
“We’re doing something here that’s going to be an economic development engine for years and years to come,” he said. “This will pay dividends long after you and I are gone.
“We can sit here and be a d0-nothing board, but we know there are needs, and we have to address providing sewer service to the two schools,” Johnson added.
Commissioner Larry Phillips said that after more than a decade of trying to make the project a reality, the businesses in the area deserved a vote one way or the other.
“These people are here tonight, and they are entitled to an up or down answer,” he said. “I know that the timing is bad and funding is an issue, but this is taxpayer’s money and these are tax-paying businesses who want to grow and expand. They’ve waited long enough. We have to make a decision and this is a project we need to go ahead with.”
Johnson made a motion to move forward with the project, working with both local and state finance officers to secure as much outside funding as possible.
The motion was seconded by Commissioner Jimmy Miller.
But Harris said now is not the right time to be investing so much money.
“I’ve said many times in the past that I support this project, but I don’t think this is the time to move forward because I don’t think the county can afford it,” he said. “I’m opposed to taking on any more debt. I think this project can wait and don’t think a few more years will hurt.”
County Manager Chris Knopf said the county will begin immediately securing easements for the sewer lines, and will put the project out to bid as soon as those easements are secured.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.