Commissioners to look at southern water and sewer on Monday

Published 12:10 am Sunday, May 6, 2018

By Andie Foley

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday will address a recurrent topic from this year’s primary campaign trail.

It’s the possibility of water and sewer expansion to the southern end of county, specifically near the new Interstate 85 exit at Old Beatty Ford Road.

During a 3 p.m. meeting on Monday, Commissioners will consider approving a task order for McGill Associates. The order could allow the company to assist in preliminary planning and negotiations for the project.

Specifically, the task order will allow McGill to plan and negotiate for an inter-local agreement with a neighboring utility system for the provision of water and wastewater capacity as well as maintenance of the system.

The order will also involve developing a financial model for the water and sewer enterprise fund: a strategy for how the project will be funded.

Commissioner Craig Pierce, running for election two years before his own term expires, has campaigned solely on this expansion.

He said he’s promised the citizens the project would be completed, and he needed four years — not two — to see the job done.

Pierce has been pushing for the expansion since 2014, when he first proposed an update to the then-1998 Water and Wastewater Feasibility study.

It’s a large project that has dragged onward through the years. But now, with the new interchange nearing completion, the time has come to move forward, Pierce said.

He said he has not felt support from many of his fellow commissioners in his effort to move the project forward.

“Where I’m having my issues are some of the commissioners, the majority of the commissioners, do not want to see this done to bring in residential housing,” he said.

Their focus instead, he said, was the commercial or industrial user, which would bring in large revenue from the water and sewer extension.

Commissioners Greg Edds, Judy Klusman and Jim Greene have each said this type of user would be necessary to fund the expansion.

But Pierce said he found issue with this reasoning.

“Industrial won’t come here if we don’t have housing,” he said. “When you build a residential area all the other things, the grocery stores, the gas stations, the businesses, all of these things come along with it and they create their own usage. It’s done all the time across the entire United States.”

And he said, the county already had the money available. A 2016 change in the North Carolina tax code instituted a sales tax on labor, which brought in an additional $2.2 million in revenue to the county.

The labor sales tax must be used toward economic development or education, and Rowan County this year split the $2.2 million evenly between the two.

Pierce suggested using that $1.1 million annually of economic development funding to complete the expansion. If the project were to cost $30 million, he said, the county could easily take out a 40-year bond and use that $1.1 million to pay it back.

He said looking further into ways to fund the construction when the finances were already there would only continue to delay the project.

But current commissioner chairman Greg Edds said he wasn’t so keen on funding the project through Pierce’s proposed method. He said it would tie up funds for short-term economic development projects for the timeframe of the loan.

Edds said it would certainly require long-term financing, but that Monday’s potential tax order could open the door to other funding possibilities.

He said the key was partnerships with landowners, developers, the Economic Development Commission and the county, an “ ‘all hands on deck’ effort,” he said. The county would need to get as much tax revenue flowing as possible.

“We haven’t sat down with the developer, landowners and architects and engineers yet to review a final plan concept,” said Edds. “(Monday’s) meeting will give us working numbers that our engineers can build a financial model on. Then we can start creating a working budget.”

Pierce remained less than convinced.

“Industry is not going to come here if we don’t have water and sewer in place,” he said. “Talking about it is one thing, but they’re not going to come until we have water lines in the ground ready for them to come and hook up to.”

In other business from Monday’s agenda:

  • The board could approve a task order for McGill Associates for the construction of an access road connecting to Julian Road and extending to Corporate Center Drive.
  • The board could approve a family subdivision waiver for Charles Barber for a parcel in the 13100 block of Statesville Boulevard.
  • The board could appoint four individuals to two local boards: one to the Housing Authority and three to the Franklin Volunteer Fire Department.