County-city squabbling could push back water extension to school by two months

by Jordan Green

Alamance Elementary near Pleasant Garden became caught in the crossfire of a political war between the city of Greensboro and Guilford County when Greensboro City Councilman Zack Matheny realized in mid-June that water and sewer lines to the school could be used as a bargaining chip.

The dispute evolved because of concurrent developments: the county commission’s decision to reduce funding to the Greensboro Public Library, to which county residents receive free access and City Manager Rashad Young’s proposal that the county should pick up the tab for school crossing guards in Greensboro, which has been covered by city taxpayers since the Greensboro and county school systems merged in the early 1990s.

After Guilford County Schools Chief of Staff Nora Carr protested the city’s proposal to cut funding for the school crossing guards in remarks addressed to the city council at its June 1 meeting, the council voted to hold up approval of the contract. Then, two weeks later the council voted to dissolve the city-county water and sewer trust fund, which is used to extend Greensboro utilities into unincorporated county areas.

City Manager Rashad Young met with County Manager Brenda Jones Fox to discuss the city council’s resolution to dissolve the water-sewer trust fund. Many council members were angered the next day when Young reported to them that Fox gave him 10-15 minutes, took some notes and contributed little to the discussion.

The council retaliated with a 7-1 vote, with at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins in dissent and Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan excused, to further delay approval of the contract.

District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy Small argued, “This school should not be held up as a political football.” Perkins added that the move amounts to “lobbing hand grenades” between the city and county.

Both the city council and county commission approved financing for the project last year. Triangle Grading & Paving of Burlington submitted the low bid of $1.1 million on May 26. Triangle posted a bond for 60 days to commit to honoring its bid, city engineer Ted Partrick said, and agreed to a 30-day extension after the council’s latest vote. That allows the city council to reconsider approval of the contract at its next meeting on July 20.

District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade told Julius Monk, director of construction for Guilford County Schools that if the school administration wants water and sewer lines extended to Alamance Elementary, they should go before the county commission and urge them to meet with the city to discuss the dissolution of the water-sewer trust fund.

“We’re all worried about the school and we’re not even responsible for schools,” she said.

Contrary to rumor, the school will open on schedule in August whether installation of the water and sewer line begins on time, Carr said. The school currently depends on well water. New building codes require sprinkler systems for fire suppression that depend on municipal water for adequate pressure, said Andrew LaRowe, interim chief operations officer for Guilford County Schools.

“From the school system’s perspective, we really need to have the water line completed by the year’s end,” he said. “Our plans are to connect to that water line by January as part of our bond project…. We’re under construction now. The project has already started and is dependent on the water connection. The primary reason for the municipal water connection is to provide drinking water and also for fire suppression.”

Allan Williams, director of water resources for the city of Greensboro, said completion of the water and sewer line installation was originally projected for Nov. 12.

“Triangle should be able to get it done within the allocated time,” Williams said. “That agenda memo assumed approval on June 1. Now we’re looking at July 20. We’re almost pushed out two months from the original speculative completion date.”

LaRowe likened the city’s delays on approving utilities to frustrating contractor delays that pushes back the move-in date for a married couple that is having a new house built on spec.

“So we’re very much at the mercy of the city and county to provide the funds and the contract to bring the water line, and we’re very hopeful that they’ll get this resolved quickly so we don’t have a delay on the project,” he said. “The kids will be fine.”