County must use millage to pay for GEFA loan

Published 10:32 am Friday, July 26, 2013

Decatur County will only be able to get a loan to pay for wastewater treatment plant improvements, if it agrees to use a portion of its annual ad valorem tax to fund the loan payments, according to County Administrator Gary Breedlove.

Earlier this year, the Decatur County Board of Commissioners applied for a loan of approximately $3 million from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA), a government agency that helps county governments secure funding for large capital projects. According to Breedlove, the loan will be for 20 years and have an interest rate of 2.4 percent.

Tuesday, Breedlove was notified that Decatur County will only qualify for the loan if it agrees to earmark a portion of its annual ad valorem property taxes to pay for it.

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Breedlove said the loan’s payments will likely require approximately 0.33 mills annually. He said that the amount earmarked for the payments will be specifically defined on citizens’ tax bills, similar to how the County Board of Education and Industrial Development Authority’s millage is listed separately.

Breedlove noted that the 0.33 mill figure is just an estimate, and it may be higher or lower, depending on GEFA’s request.

“The people at GEFA want to make this loan to Decatur County,” Breedlove said. “We have to pass certain criteria with their underwriters, and as of right now we do not meet that criteria. If we guarantee this portion of the millage, that will serve as our collateral, and then we should be able to receive the loan.”

On Tuesday, July 31, the Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. to discuss the millage rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which currently includes a 1.5-mill increase. The commissioners will then vote on that millage rate during the regular 7 p.m. meeting.

Breedlove said that the county could theoretically earmark GEFA’s 0.33 mills from the existing millage rate, but he recommends that they instead add it on to the proposed 1.5-mill increase — therefore increasing the millage rate to 1.83 mills. During previous budget discussions, Breedlove has advocated a 3-mill increase.

“Realistically, we have to turn this thing around,” he said. “One and a half mills will not fix our long-term financial problem.”

Breedlove also said that GEFA told the county it had the option of putting up the collateral for the loan by increasing water-and-sewer rates. However, Breedlove noted that is not a viable option, because there are only 23 customers and they are already paying a competitive rate.

The county is under a court order from the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to make improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, which is located in the county’s Industrial Air Park off U.S. Highway 27 North.