Though they lack full funding for constructing a planned sewer line from the stoplight at Toast in Mount Airy to the North Surry High School area, officials want to proceed as much as they can as fast as possible.
“Long-term, it’s the wise thing to do,” Craig Hunter, a member of the Surry Board of Commissioners, said Thursday during a meeting of the City-County Liaison Committee — a group that explores joint projects.
“My gut tells me, ‘let’s roll,’” Hunter told fellow committee members in advocating launching the project soon without waiting for possible grant funding to develop to help pay for the project.
It has been under discussion by city and county leaders for several months, since a local businessman, Gary York, asked about extending sewer service to the area including Gentry Middle and North Surry High schools. York owns land along that corridor being considered for a new station for the Franklin Volunteer Fire Department, which would require wastewater service.
A long-range plan for extending utility services to interstates 74 and 77 further out N.C. 89 is already forged, but local officials have sought to speed up service to the site in question. That would address immediate needs tied to the firehouse and ongoing sewage-disposal problems at both schools, while also encouraging more development in that area as a result of the utility availability.
At another liaison meeting in early January, Mount Airy and Surry County leaders decided to pursue one of several options identified to serve the corridor — at a price tag of $4.4 million.
In the past month, staff members of both entities have explored possible grant and other financing that would enable the project to proceed soon.
However, results from that effort presented Thursday show that funding cycles for various financial sources targeted wouldn’t allow construction to begin until spring 2011.
Those sources include the N.C. Department of Transportation, federal Appalachian Regional Commission, N.C. Rural Center, state Clean Water Trust Fund and Golden LEAF tobacco-settlement money.
There is a strong possibility that three of those sources eventually could supply about $2 million toward the project cost, which would leave the city and county having to fund the remaining $2 million or so.
Officials of both seemed in agreement Thursday that they want to find some way to finance the sewer project without a delay. One of the motivating factors is the present climate for cheaper construction costs made possible by the recession.
Options discussed include trying to accelerate funding commitments from entities such as the Rural Center, which supports economic-development efforts in poorer counties.
That might be accomplished through the intervention of state legislators representing Surry County, or face-to-face meetings with agency officials to impress upon them the urgent needs involved. That is especially the case with the two schools, which have been fined for wastewater violations in the past 10 years.
“Let them hear us beg,” Hunter said of the face-to-face approach.
He added that Surry possibly could use recovery bond financing it has been targeted for, made possible with federal stimulus money, to pay its half of the $2 million shortfall.
Another possibility discussed Thursday was having the sewer project completed in phases, which would allow local officials to get started soon. However, that could put future grant funding in jeopardy if the agencies involve believe the project is possible without their assistance, officials said.
The project would supply a force main, or pressurized pipe system, from the Interstates Water and Sewer District to the Maple Hollow Road intersection. It also would include several gravity-flow runs to and from various points including Gentry, North Surry and Meadowview Middle School and Stewarts Creek.
Those gravity lines would promote more customers hooking up to the system in the affected area.
The handful of city leaders in attendance Thursday said one of the key steps at this point is to make sure the entire Mount Airy Board of Commissioners agrees that the sewer extension is a priority.
Then, municipal officials would need to “look at the dollar bills,” said Barbara Jones, acting city manager.
“It’s a priority with us,” Hunter said of the county’s position.
Jon Cawley, a city commissioner who is on the liaison committee, believes strongly that a “sense of urgency” surrounds the project.
“If our neighbors at North Surry need sewer (service), then I think it’s immoral to hold that back,” Cawley said.
But city and county officials agreed Thursday that various policy questions also need to be decided before the project reaches fruition, such as whether the new areas receiving utility service would be annexed by Mount Airy.
“I’d have a problem if you forcibly annexed this whole corridor right off the bat,” Hunter told municipal officials.
Mount Airy would have the option of charging double user rates to those outside its boundaries, which could generate up to $110,000 per year in revenues that would help the city recoup its investment, based on Thursday’s discussion.
Contact Tom Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1924.