The Barrow County Water & Sewerage Authority voted Feb. 16 to pay an unspecified number of early payments on the long-term debt the county is pursuing to build seven major sewer system improvements.
In a 5-0 vote, with Barbara Garland absent, the authority voted to provide the financial backing to help Barrow County’s government obtain close to $10 million in public financing through the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority.
With the county government’s reserves dwindling, the authority is agreeing to use some of its nearly $6 million in cash to service the county debt on the projects until there are enough new customers to cover the annual expense.
“The county is looking for participation from the water authority to do the front-end funding,” said Mark Whiddon, director of the county’s wastewater services. “We felt it was our duty to sit down with you guys and give you an overview of where we are and what we are thinking.”
The six county projects will extend service along major transportation corridors and to the cities of Auburn, Bethlehem and Carl. The news will be welcome particularly in Bethlehem, where officials in the past year have been stepping up demands for service to the town. That project is expected to be completed by the end of 2011.
A seventh project, through a cooperative arrangement between the county and the city of Winder, will increase the flow to Winder’s Cedar Creek treatment facility where the county already has purchased 1 million gallons per day of capacity but is not using it.
Whiddon said the county wants to go ahead and build the projects while costs are low due to the economic downturn and also prepare the county for new growth when the economy recovers.
Authority chairman Stan Coley said he and vice-chairman Ron Beacham have been meeting with county and Winder officials to map out two funding agreements.
“The water sewerage authority has a good bit of money it has collected over the years and built up,” Coley said. “What the county and the city of Winder want us to do… is to agree to make the front-end payments on these projects as they come on line, to guarantee that payment.
“We’re still working on that agreement between us and those two entities. One more step, and I think we will be there.”
He said the authority would get back its investment in time, as new customers tap into the projects.
Coley noted that the authority’s support is limited to its currently available funding and is contingent on finalizing two agreements: one with the county for six projects, the other with both the county and the city of Winder for a seventh project.
The exact amount of the authority’s financial commitment is unclear, because the long-term financing that will determine the amount of debt service is not yet in place.
Water Department director Myron Garrett said after the meeting that the WSA has more than $5 million in its operating account and more than $500,000 in reserves.
He said he believes the authority will be able to help with five to seven years of debt service payments, especially because as new customers tap on, the need for the authority’s assistance will diminish.
“Everybody figures that in three to five years, things ought to be looking a lot better – especially with businesses on some of these corridors, that should improve,” Garrett said.
Neil Counts, an engineer with H.S. Feldman Co., said his company already has submitted to GEFA a summary of the planned projects in an effort to obtain the long-term financing. The “Wastewater Projects Summary” dated Dec. 3, 2009 describes the projects, their estimated costs and projected completion dates as follows:
•Pump Stations and Pipelines at Highways 53 and 316: Cost $1.25 million, completion Oct. 15.
•Hwy. 211/Rockwell Church Road Pump Station and Pipelines: Cost: $2.6 million, completion Oct. 15.