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China Grove, Salisbury restart talks on combining utilities

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
Salisbury and China Grove officials are again talking about a possible merger of utility systems.
China Grove Mayor Don Bringle said top officials held a very preliminary meeting and discussions will likely go forward.
But Bringle said any possible takeover of the China Grove system by Salisbury-Rowan Utilities is a year or more away.
“The city (Salisbury) has a full plate right now. We have a full plate,” Bringle said, referring to putting together a budget for the coming year in challenging financial times.
Discussions could pick up speed after the budgets are completed in June.
In 2005, China Grove and Salisbury came close to forging an agreement after nearly a year of negotiations. After five years, China Grove water and sewer customers would have paid the same rate as all other Salisbury-Rowan customers.
China Grove sends all its sewage to Salisbury for processing. And the town is under contract to buy a minimum of 300,000 gallons of water daily from Salisbury, more water than the town sells.
Town Manager Bill Pless and Ron Niland, a Mount Airy-based consultant working for China Grove, met recently with Salisbury City Manager David Treme, Jim Behmer (director of Salisbury-Rowan Utilities) and John Sofley (management services director).
Treme told Salisbury City Council April 7 about the meeting with China Grove. He recalled the negotiations in 2005 and said he would be asking Sofley, who serves as the city’s top finance man, “to run the numbers again.”
He said a merger of the systems might be possible if it has no negative impact on Salisbury-Rowan Utilities’ ratepayers and is favorable to China Grove citizens as well.
Any recommendation for consolidation ó if it ever reaches that point ó probably wouldn’t happen until mid- 2010, Treme indicated.
The China Grove Board of Aldermen agreed during its retreat in February to pursue discussions with Salisbury.
Bringle said this week that China Grove needs to get out of the water and sewer business. He has repeatedly said it’s a no-win situation for the town with the high rates hurting business and causing endless complaints from residents.
Bringle said the China Grove system may be much more attractive to Salisbury now for several reasons. For one, the debt on the system has been reduced.
And Salisbury’s interest in providing water and sewer to a new Old Beatty Ford interchange on Interstate 85 could also be a plus.
During a meeting last month to discuss plans to create a bio-tech and commercial center at Old Beatty Ford and I-85, Salisbury officials displayed how they would provide water and sewer services. A portion of the lines and facilities included in their plan are owned by China Grove.
Mark Wineka contributed to this story. Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.

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