County declines to accept city’s offer on wastewater plant

Published 4:28 pm Friday, August 23, 2013

After a lengthy discussion during a special called meeting last Tuesday night, the Decatur County Board of Commissioners decided with a 5-1 vote to not accept the City of Bainbridge’s offer to merge the county’s wastewater and sewage systems into the city’s system. The lone dissenting vote was from commissioner Jan Godwin.

Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds presented a formal proposal to the commission on August 14 for the city to assume responsibility of the county’s existing water, wastewater, and natural gas operations.

The deal called for the county to pay the $1.7 million to make the connection into the city’s existing water and sewer system. The estimated $1 million in costs to upgrade the county’s existing internal system in the industrial park would be credited back to the county as compensation for the city taking over the natural gas system. In an amended proposal, the city offered to make an annual payment to the county that equates to five percent of gross receipts from the natural gas system, an estimated $25,000 per year.

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The net cost to the county would be $1.7 million, according to the proposal presented by Reynolds to the commission.

Under a consent order issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division since April of 2011 to make repairs to its wastewater treatment facility, the county will instead go forward with a $4.8 million project to renovate the system. Of that total, $4.5 million is allocated for construction costs and $300,000 for engineering costs.

The total project cost is comprised of a $1.67 million grant from the United States Economic Development Administration and a $3.13 million loan from the Georgia Environmental Financing Authority (GEFA). The county approved a .25 millage rate increase as a direct result of the county obtaining the loan from GEFA.

County Administrator Gary Breedlove began the discussion by offering his recommendation that the county not accept the city’s offer.

“I’ve never been in a situation before where we’re giving someone something and it costs $1.7 million to do it. I strongly advocate Decatur County take care of the Decatur County Industrial Park and the utilities associated with that and build the infrastructure necessary for future growth in that industrial park,” Breedlove said.

Commissioner Butch Mosely asked Breedlove, “Tell me why if we can spend $1.7 million instead of $3.1 million, why wouldn’t that be to our advantage?”

“I don’t believe we will end up with $3.1 million; we’re going to be closer to drawing $2.5 million. And with this new business coming in, there is a very high probability that through the DCA (Georgia Department of Community Affairs) that we can get an employment incentive program grant of $10,000 per worker, up to a maximum of $500,000.”

Breedlove was referring to Bainbridge Manufacturing that has announced plans to locate in the building in the industrial park formerly occupied by Traco.

Breedlove also voiced his concern over what would happen to the county’s existing plant if the city took over the sewage operations.

“One of two things would have to happen with our treatment plant if it is run mainline into the city. It has to be converted into a pre-treatment plant. I don’t know what the details of that would be, and I don’t think they (the city) know. If they don’t know the capacity of their own plant, I don’t know how they would know what the capacity of pre-treatment would be,” indicated Breedlove.

The second option, according to Breedlove, would be to raze the county’s existing plant.

Stacy Watkins of Watkins & Associates, the county’s consulting engineer for the wastewater treatment facility, said the existing facility would have to be decommissioned if the county chose to merge systems with the city.

“Say we hooked up with the city and five years from now, for whatever reason, we decided to bring it back up, what would it cost us to bring it back up to what we have today?” Commission Chairman Russell Smith asked Watkins.

“At a 1.5 million gallon capacity, it would probably cost $10 million plus, but I am shooting from the hip. What happens when you decommission a plant, you give up your permit and you can not get that back without a fairly lengthy process,” replied Watkins.

Watkins also questioned the ability of the city’s existing system to handle the daily volume that is generated by the users in the industrial park. Estimates, according to the city’s proposal, show that the county currently averages 179,000 gallons per day and the city currently averages 1.3 million gallons of wastewater per day. The capacity of the city’s system is 2.5 million gallons per day.

Breedlove held up a copy of The Post-Searchlight with a front page story about the city’s current sewer project in the Lake Douglas area of Bainbridge and said, “These are the people that are going to fix our wastewater, ‘Slow Going on Lake Douglas.’”

After discussion about whether or not declining the city’s offer would require a vote of the commission, the commissioners voted 5-1 to not accept the city’s offer.

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