February 10. 2006 12:00AM
Planning session focuses on sewer, jobs
By ERIC FRAZIER
Sewer issues and economic development topped the list of priorities
Davidson County commissioners discussed Thursday during an all-day
Board members compressed what had been scheduled as a day-and-a-half
agenda into one day and left the annual meeting unsure how to squeeze all
the needs they heard about into an already tight budget. The talks were
held in the boardroom of the Davidson County Economic Development
Commission on the campus of the community college.
Most of the topics were updates of ongoing concerns. However, Public Works
and Services Director Bill Clutter got board members' attention with the
news that Winston-Salem/Forsyth Utilities might be willing to assume
responsibility for part of the county's sewer collection system, from
which it now accepts wastewater for treatment.
"I've heard your statements that you don't want to be in the sewer
business," Clutter told them. "This is an opportunity to get out of it."
Clutter said the idea came up in a meeting with David Saunders, director
of the combined city/county utilities operation, to discuss increasing the
capacity allocated for two lines that serve the Miller Creek and Fryes
Creek basins in northern Davidson County. During their talk, Clutter
learned that "all options are open," including the county divesting itself
of all responsibility for maintaining the pipes.
Under an existing agreement, Winston-Salem will accept as much as 1.5
million gallons per day of wastewater for treatment. Davidson County,
which does not own a treatment plant, has similar agreements with
Lexington and Thomasville.
"There's a fear that comes with that - the 'A' word," noted Vice Chairman
Larry Potts, presiding over the meeting in the absence of Chairman Fred
McClure, who was ill.
Clutter noted that, by itself, continued county ownership of the sewer
lines will not necessarily forestall Winston-Salem expansion, because much
development can proceed using septic tanks.
"The 'D' word gets you to the 'A' word," noted County Manager Robert
Potts said the power over sewer hook-ups could give the Twin City control
over the density of development in the area, but Clutter said Davidson
County would not be giving up its right to control land use and could
tighten zoning regulations.
"If the 'A' word comes along, we don't have that right," Commissioner
Cindy Akins added.
Thus, the discussion proceeded without anyone actually saying the word
Clutter warned that if the county continues to be responsible for the
lines, it will have to add customers and raise fees to generate enough
revenue to maintain them.
Owning sewer lines has made most commissioners uneasy. The county began
building them primarily to serve schools, which have been fined by state
environmental regulators for exceeding the capacity of their septic
systems, and in hopes of also serving commercial corridors for economic
"To me, this news he's brought back is some of the best news we've
gotten in this county," remarked Commissioner Sam Watford. "We're not in
the sewer treatment business. Let's get a working relationship with them
and get this going."
The board agreed to send Potts, Watford, Hyatt and Clutter to meet with
officials of Winston-Salem/Forsyth Utilities. With that decision, they put
on hold a utility rate study that Hyatt had planned to discuss at the
Divestiture of the collection lines that feed into Winston-Salem would
partially solve another problem that has confounded the commissioners for
the past few years: how to fairly grant sewer connection requests to
developers of large residential subdivisions. Some individual requests
have been for a quarter or half of the limited capacity available.
The board also reviewed an engineer's alternatives for building sewer
lines to Central Davidson middle and high schools on Highway 47 and to
Southwood Elementary School and a proposed Southmont school on Highway 8.
A basic plan to serve the schools and the immediate vicinity around them
would cost about $6.3 million, while other alternatives, ranging as high
as $12 million, could provide service to the intersection of Interstate 85
and Highway 64 East as well.
A vote to begin design work on the less ambitious plan to serve the
schools is expected on the board's Tuesday night agenda. Having the
engineering study in hand for the Interstate 85 intersection will be
helpful if a commercial customer comes along who would help pay for the
project, Watford said.
After lunch, Steve Googe, executive director of the EDC, reviewed business
recruitment efforts and made a pitch for the commissioners to back
creation of a 1,000-acre, multi-jurisdictional industrial park. That means
the county would partner with several municipalities and possibly Duke
Power and Norfolk-Southern Railway in the project.
"The idea of the park is instead of everybody having their own park, to
have one park that everybody shares," Googe explained.
Davidson County needs the park because of recent successes, he said,
noting that top industries are seeking sites here, but he lacks suitable
"mega" sites to show them.
Prospects prefer locations in Class A business parks, but in the Lexington
and Welcome parks there are only 156.5 acres available, most of which
cannot be combined.
Googe said that 5.68 million square feet of vacated industrial space in 35
buildings has been sold since 2003, leaving only about 470,000 square feet
in nine buildings available to show prospects.
Between 2000 and 2005, according to figures kept by the N.C. Employment
Security Commission, Davidson County had 6,933 announced permanent
layoffs. But during the same period, there were 8,795 new jobs announced,
That performance has landed the county on a Top Ten list published in Site
Selection magazine, but Googe said interest from larger companies will dry
up if he cannot offer suitable sites in a park.
"This is a huge commitment," he said of the potential $12 million
But based on figures from the Lexington and Welcome parks, the new one
could generate $1.5 billion in new investment and about $8.5 million in
additional tax revenue.
"If you want to walk on water, you've got to step out of the boat," Googe
told them, recalling a Sunday school lesson about acting on faith.
The commissioners took no action on the matter but will undoubtedly
revisit the issue in coming weeks.
Eric Frazier can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 226, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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