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County plans to transfer water line to city of Salisbury

SALISBURY — County commissioners agreed Friday to begin transferring ownership of a water line in the Dukeville area to Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, a city department.

The decision is prompted, in part, by the possibility of water bills being lower under changed management. Water bills in the Dukeville community, served by the only county-operated line, start with a base charge of $71 for the roughly 150 residential customers. That’s more than twice the average Salisbury-Rowan Utilities water bill at 5,000 gallons used per month — $34.88, according to the N.C. School of Government’s N.C. Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard.

With other development possible once Chewy.com finishes construction its a 700,000 square foot distribution facility, Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said an ownership transfer should occur “before the roof gets done.” Commissioner Craig Pierce said it would be too late to pursue the transfer after Chewy opens its facility this summer.

“Stuff is going to start popping up everywhere, and we’re going to get the same complaints that the water rate is twice what it is elsewhere,” Edds said.

With a majority of commissioners speaking in favor, commissioners agreed to move forward with the plan. They didn’t take a formal vote or appoint a subset of commissioners to work on the issue to avoid making meetings public, according to Edds.

Commissioners Vice Chairman Jim Greene was among those speaking in favor of the transfer, saying he had “no interest in piddling around with a small water line” on which the county wasn’t going to make money.

This year, commissioners chose to refund any leftover money from water bills, but Edds reminded commissioners repairs will eventually be required and that existing rates are artificially suppressed because of “a large contribution” from Duke Energy. The company paid for installation of the line and provided a sum of money to property owners to pay water bills as a result of concerns about coal ash contamination.

Another factor working in favor of a transfer: Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station is interested in hooking onto the line, but costs to extend it would be too high, Edds said.

“The costs may be reduced to Duke Energy to start taking capacity from SRU,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Caskey asked if operating a water line would provide any benefits for the next time county government seeks a loan from the Local Government Commission, which oversees debt and finances of municipalities and counties in the state. County Manager Aaron Church responded that owning a financially stable water system would make it easier to extend lines elsewhere in Rowan.

Commissioner Craig Pierce, who in 2014 reinvigorated talk about building water lines in rural areas, said he would support transferring the county’s line to Salisbury-Rowan Utilities. Pierce said he was most concerned about extending municipal sewer down Long Ferry Road.

Already, Rowan County has secured a grant to build a sewer line to Chewy.com’s fulfillment center. Further economic development on the road, Pierce said, will require municipal sewer lines, not just water.

Commissioners didn’t vote on extending sewer lines Friday, but Edds said after the meeting the county would work on the project.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4248.

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