City offers solution to county’s sewer upgrade problems

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, August 13, 2013

During Tuesday morning’s Decatur County Board of Commissioners meeting, the City of Bainbridge officially made an offer to Decatur County to take over the county’s wastewater treatment plant.

Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds presented the county with a proposal that would essentially cost the county $1.7 million, with the city permanently assuming responsibility of the county’s existing water, wastewater, and natural gas systems. In addition, the city would be responsible for all future operating and capital costs of the entire combined city and county system.

“I wanted to come today because all the citizens that I serve in the City of Bainbridge, you also serve because they are Decatur County citizens, as well,” Reynolds told the commissioners. “Everything you do affects all the citizens of Bainbridge.”

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Bainbridge officials originally made an informal offer to connect the Industrial Air Park to the city’s wastewater treatment plan on Cox Avenue back in spring of 2011. County officials passed on the offer at the time, citing technical concerns. To get to the industrial park, the city would have to place water and sewer pipes underneath the bed of the Flint River, as well as couple the separate systems’ pipes together.

“If your engineer thinks we could tie on to the city system for $1.7 million, I would encourage your engineer and our engineer to get together and see if this is a feasible project. We would be idiots if we didn’t at least consider this,” said commissioner Butch Mosely.

Located in the county’s industrial park, the county’s treatment facility is in need of extensive repairs and renovations. In the spring of 2011, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) issued a consent order that requires the county to repair problems with river pollution and replace old equipment at the 24-year-old facility.

The total cost of the repairs is $4.8 million. Of that total, $1.67 million would come from a grant from the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the remaining $3.13 million would be borrowed from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA).

The resulting debt from the GEFA loan would be paid back over a 20-year period at a 2.4 percent interest rate. The plant currently services 23 customers in and around the vicinity of the industrial park.

The county plans to allocate an increase of .25 mills in property taxes to service this debt. With the additional 1.5 mill increase, the total proposed Decatur County increase is 1.75 mills this year.

“We need to understand that it is not completely in the city’s best financial interests to do this deal, with the costs for us moving forward in maintaining and improving the infrastructure of the system in the industrial park; but because of economies of scale it will be less per citizen, than it would be for you (the commission) to invest in, for such a small amount of customers.” Reynolds explained.

However, city officials have previously expressed interest in growing the volume of natural gas the city sells; which would be a side benefit of assuming utility customers at the county’s industrial park.

Reynolds indicated that the county’s water services current cost is $30,000 per each of the county’s 23 utility customers. For Bainbridge, which has hundreds of commercial and residential customers, the cost per customer is just $375.

“These are the kind of savings that we are all going to realize in this joint effort to provide these services to the customers that you have, and, hopefully, more new customers,” Reynolds continued.

Another estimated $1 million in upgrades of the county’s treatment facility would need to be made to correct inflow and infiltration problems that allow rainwater to enter the system.

However, because the city’s proposal included also acquiring the county’s natural gas operation in the industrial park, the city would absorb the $1 million upgrades cost as compensation to the county.

The natural gas operation, however, generates a surplus each year. The 2012 audit shows operating income of $148,227 and the 2014 budget projects a positive surplus of $134,541.

The county operates the water department at a deficit each year. According to the fiscal year 2012 audit, the county had an operating loss of $431,378. The recently passed fiscal year 2014 budget plans for operating revenues of $190,000 and operating expenses of $423,429, resulting in an operating loss of $233,429.

County Administrator Gary Breedlove voiced concern about the capacity of the city’s system should this deal come to fruition.

“Continuing to improve our system is something that I can guarantee you we will do because we will not allow us to get in a situation where we don’t have the capacity to meet your needs,” replied Reynolds.

The city’s system currently has a capacity of 2.5 million gallons per day and is currently operating at half capacity. The county averages 250,000 gallons per day, but spikes to 900,000 gallons per day during heavy rains.

The commissioners made no decisions during the meeting about accepting the proposal.