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Talks move away from consolidation to cooperation

On Tuesday, May 15, members of the East Lincoln Area Chamber (ELAC), a branch of the Lincolnton/Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, met to continue discussion of a proposed consolidation of the county and city sewer and water systems.
According to chairwoman Kimberly Poe, the discussion had moved away from consolidation and was now concentrated on cooperation.
“The original focus was consolidation,” said Poe. “Now it has veered off into this realm.”
Talk turned to County Manager Stan Kiser’s suggestion of a county water/sewer authority. Kiser had questioned the county’s willingness to let the city of Lincolnton have so much control over the water and sewer system.
For the members of ELAC, a more pressing matter was the fact that people in the county are paying a much higher rate for their water and sewer services than city residents. Getting lower rates for those living in the county is definitely a concern for the group.
The idea of running a sewer line down N.C. 73, up to the airport, was once again mentioned. Poe admitted the idea made sense, but questioned its feasibility from a financial standpoint.
With a 9 million gallon capacity, the city of Lincolnton’s water system is ample. With several recently-announced plant closings within the city, that capacity will be freed up, making the proposed cooperation between the city and county seem more attainable.
Members of ELAC expressed their frustration with the city of Lincolnton’s continued objection to the plan.
They questioned the idea of capacity as an issue, noting that the population of Lincolnton is only around 10,000.
Ultimately, the members of ELAC would like to hear all of the city’s objections so they can explain why those objections are not valid and then hopefully move forward.
ELAC member Ken Morris stated his belief that the group should not have to bear the burden of swaying the city.
“It is not the responsibility of this board to try and convince the city,” Morris said. “It’s our responsibility to make a recommendation to the Chamber board of directors and the Chamber board of directors makes a recommendation to the city.”
The Lincolnton-Lincoln County Regional Airport was mentioned several times as reason enough to solve the water/sewer dilemma.
Considering the role the airport plays in bringing business into Lincoln County, resolving this issue would show that, from a business standpoint, cooperation is in everyone’s best interest.
Yet the group admitted there were still obstacles to be overcome, such as the idea that consolidation or cooperation would raise rates in the city so that higher rates in East Lincoln could be reduced.
Having done some homework on how other counties have handled similar situations, the group members believe rates would actually level out over time.
Other arguments for the city and county coming together included getting the day-to-day operations of the water and sewer systems away from the county commissioners.
The ELAC members decided to have another meeting with Kiser for the purpose of getting more information about his proposed county water/sewer authority. Making sure the proposal is business-friendly will be a priority for the group.
A motion to schedule a meeting with Kiser passed unanimously.
In other ELAC business, the members discussed feedback from the community, including business owners’ frustrations with some businesses not keeping their property clean or using “floppy” signs to advertise.
The importance of informing new business owners of regulations and ordinances was stressed.
ELAC member Crystal Gettys brought up the subject of placing a kiosk in the area that would offer Chamber of Commerce information, as well as space to lease out to other businesses interested in advertising.
Gettys asked for suggestions as to where to put that kiosk that would be fair to all business owners and effective for the Chamber and its members. She mentioned the need for advertising as well.
“We need advertising, like a billboard, so people from out of town looking to relocate here will know where to find chamber information,” said Gettys.
The idea of putting several smaller kiosks in a variety of businesses was also proposed.
Finally, Gettys talked about the “Crazy Crew,” a group of Chamber members who have begun a sort of goodwill mission to touch base with other Chamber members who are not active within the organization.
“We’re cruising the county,” Gettys said. “We’re drawing five names a month, at random.”
The next ELAC meeting is set for Tuesday, June 19.
by Allyson Levine

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