Counties deny pumping NC money into local sewers is gamble to land casinos
Four North Carolina communities near proposed casino sites are slated to receive state grants for major water and sewage infrastructure upgrades, but leaders in three of them deny that their projects have anything to do with casinos.
Officials in the fourth community, Anson County, acknowledge the upgrades could help increase the capacity of the systems to support such a project, if one of the proposed casinos is built nearby.
These four counties are also represented by lawmakers who received campaign funding from executives of a Baltimore-based casino development firm, The Cordish Cos., which CPP investigated in July 2023. Casino legalization in North Carolina could reemerge as an issue in the legislature this year.
“We don’t have the capacity to support something like a casino site and we want to enhance our water and sewage capacity,” Anson County Manager Leonard Sossamon said.
“If the Cordish folks come to Anson County, we’ll now be in a position to serve them.”
The state legislature did not approve the proposal in the last session, but Sossamon said he’s waiting to see whether lawmakers will vote on casino legalization during this year’s session.
All other town and county managers said the budget allocations for water and sewage upgrades have nothing to with building capacity for casino sites related to The Cordish Cos.
Budget funding water infrastructure
- More than $54.5 million to Rockingham County — $10 million for water and wastewater projects along U.S. 220, about $23.6 million for other water and wastewater projects and $21 million for the extension of water services from Reidsville toward the unincorporated community of Ruffin.
- $4.5 million to the town of Madison in Rockingham County for an unspecified water or wastewater project
- $4 million to the town of Mayodan in Rockingham County for the wastewater treatment plant.
- About $17 million to Nash County for an unspecified water or wastewater project
- $6 million to Anson County for a regional water or wastewater project
- $4 million to Marshville in Union County near the Anson County line for a regional water or wastewater project.
The way these grants work is that towns and counties do not receive the funding in full and are instead expected to pay for the projects and send receipts to the state for reimbursement, according to Frank Deese, the town manager of Marshville.
Prior to the current state budget, funds were also allocated for water and wastewater infrastructure in the 2022 state budget to counties and towns in the same areas of the state with the exception of Nash County:
More than $17.8 million were allocated to Rockingham County for water and sewer infrastructure improvements and $1 million was allocated to Madison in Rockingham County for water and sewer infrastructure projects, $5 million to Anson County and $4 million to Marshville in nearby Union County.
Over the course of two years, that’s a total of $9.5 million allocated for water and wastewater infrastructure to the adjacent towns of Madison and Mayodan in Rockingham County and more than $72.3 million for water and sewer projects in the county at large, which is represented by state Senate leader Phil Berger.
Lauren Horsch, the spokesperson for Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said the funding is not related to any specific development and is instead aimed at addressing “critical water and sewer needs in those communities.”
The Senate Republican Caucus hasn’t met yet to decide what legislation may be taken up during the short session that starts in April, Horsch said.
More than a “billion dollars in water-sewer infrastructure (are) funded in the budget,” said Demi Dowdy, the spokesperson for Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, the state House Speaker.
“Since counties have a variety of unique infrastructure and economic development needs, it is up to the individual members to identify the best use of that funding in their districts,” Dowdy said.
Lance Metzler, the Rockingham County manager, said the funds allocated to the county over the past two years have nothing to do with the recently proposed entertainment district. The water and sewage upgrade “has been a plan for years,” Metzler said.
“We’ve had to increase our infrastructure, water and sewer to accommodate growth,” he said.
“The county has been seeking to extend and expand the infrastructure system along the Highway 220/Interstate 73 corridor (and others) since at least 2006,” read an emailed joint statement from Rockingham County’s community development director, Hiram Marziano, and long-standing engineer, Bill Lester, with Aberdeen-based LKC Engineering, PLLC.
Expansion of the water and sewer infrastructure, according to Marziano and Metzler, precedes the casino proposal. Expansion of the infrastructure is mentioned in the current land-use plan, the 2021 land-use plan, the 2016 economic development strategic plan and the 2006 land-use plan for the county, according to documents shared with CPP.
“Recently the county has approved or is in the process of approving roughly 2,626 residential units, which will far exceed the capacity of the original system,” Lester said.
The town managers of Madison and Mayodan in Rockingham County, Amy Roberts and Chad Wall, both said the grant funding received over the past two years is unrelated to the casino sites.
Stacie Shatzer, the county manager of Nash County, also said the fund allocation is not tied to any casino plans and will be used for water and sewer upgrades.
“It has nothing to do with the casino,” said Deese, the town manager of Marshville, to questions about the $8 million funding allocated to the town over the past two years. Half of Marshville’s sewer goes to Union County and the other half goes to Anson County and there is also a legal dispute with Union County over billing, Deese said.
The town doesn’t have its own water or sewer infrastructure and purchases water from Anson County, he said. The grant funding for water and wastewater infrastructure will enable the town to attract more growth, according to Deese.
“We’ve been stagnated and haven’t had a new house built in Marshville in 30 to 40 years,” he said. “We are close enough to the areas proposed for a casino site that if the proposal is passed this year and a casino is built, we do hope to see some benefit.”
Sossamon, the Anson County manager, agrees.
“It would be an economic driver and would definitely be beneficial to Anson County and the surrounding region,” he said. He has heard of The Cordish Cos. looking at land to purchase, Sossamon said, “but I don’t think they will buy any land until the General Assembly gives their approval.”
The next legislative session is expected to begin in late April, according to Dowdy. It remains to be seen whether casino legalization, an issue that divided the state legislature’s Republican majority last year and delayed the state budget, will reemerge in the N.C. General Assembly.