Lawmakers meet with town leaders
SALISBURY — While state delegates were in Salisbury on Friday, the four general assembly members met with local town leaders to discuss issues pertinent to the county’s municipalities.
N.C. Reps. Carl Ford and Harry Warren joined Sens. Andrew Brock and Gene McLaurin, and a crowd of about 30, at the Rowan County administrative building Friday afternoon.
Town officials from East Spencer, Granite Quarry, Landis, Rockwell, Salisbury and Spencer were in attendance.
Many of the topics involved N.C. Department of Transportation projects, including the widening of Interstate 85 in southern Rowan County.
Brock said state transportation officials’ enthusiasm has grown for an interchange at Old Beatty Ford Road.
“They were very, very interested,” Brock said. Transportation officials are “looking at what can happen and looking at future growth patterns. Not only in Rowan County but in the metropolitan Charlotte area.”
Ford, who has been a proponent of I-85 development, said he plans to meet with Transportation Secretary Tony Tata soon to discuss the four-lane corridor between China Grove and Kannapolis.
“We’re going to concentrate on I-85,” he said. “It’s fantastic through Salisbury, but getting the rest of the county done ...”
Various town officials also expressed concern over talk of eliminating extraterritorial jurisdiction, which could financially impact several municipalities in the county.
Spencer Aldermen Jeff Morris voiced support for a study of Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, calling for legislators to consider an oversight commission to see if money obtained through increased rates is being properly reinvested into the system’s infrastructure.
Salisbury operates the utility, providing water and wastewater treatment to other towns.
“A lot of us depend on receiving our water and sewer utility service from other municipalities — and this is a problem statewide,” Morris said. “Like ... Rep. (Harry) Warren noted this morning, the tendency in many of those large-utility municipalities is to increase the rates beyond what is necessary to meet the expenses, using that money to fund other government operations of the parent government at the expense of the non-residents who have no vote on that.”
Morris’ proposal stemmed from a bill N.C. Rep. Tim Moffitt sponsored last month. If it passes, the bill would form the Joint Legislative Public Infrastructure Oversight and would examine public infrastructure in North Carolina.
That bill targets Asheville’s power to use up to 5 percent of its water and sewer revenues to pay for street and sidewalk improvements, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.
But Salisbury officials took exception to the remarks and fired back later in the meeting.
“We’re a lot different than Asheville,” Salisbury Rowan-Utilities Director Jim Behmer said.
Behmer noted the partnerships began in 1997 when some county municipalities looked to Salisbury to avoid double or tripled water/sewage rates. Spencer was added in 2000 when the town’s wastewater treatment plant no longer complied with state regulations.
“The other piece that is very different is we have a one-rate policy,” he said, adding that Asheville has a different rate system.
“We spent over $5 million in capital reinvestment in our system,” Behmer said. “And our system’s really the entire county.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.