The controversy surrounding a proposed sewerage line extension in Barrow County to accommodate a new school raises some fundamental issues about how local governments affect growth.
The proposal in Barrow for 13,900 ft. of sewerage line to a site on Mulberry Road for a new school would also be designed to take additional flow from other area developments.
But that’s a double-edged sword for local governments and the impact of laying a sewerage line can ultimately be good or bad depending on its location. Putting water and sewerage lines down any road immediately increases the value of land along the road. Property with water and sewerage available is usually more valuable because of its development potential.
But how that impacts local governments depends on how the property will be developed. Sewerage lines allow for higher-density housing development since septic systems aren’t needed. In the short-term, higher density housing may bring in some building and development fees to government, but in the longer term higher-density housing can lead to overcrowded schools and traffic issues, both of which costs local governments additional money, sometimes more than they get off property taxes from the development.
However, if a sewerage line is put in an area destined for commercial or industrial development, the investment of the infrastructure often pays back to local governments. While industrial growth does have some governmental costs, those are relatively low compared to the taxes paid by industries on buildings and equipment.
And this is where Barrow County is lacking. Barrow doesn’t have enough industrial development to act as a counterbalance to its booming residential growth. Some 60 percent of Barrow’s tax digest is residential while only 12 percent is industrial. Those numbers are actually further apart if you factor in homestead exemptions, which pull millions of dollars off the net digest.
Compare that to Jackson County, which has roughly the same size overall tax digest. Some 21 percent of Jackson’s digest is industrial while 47 percent is residential. That means that Jackson County is less reliant on homeowners for tax dollars because it has a larger base of industrial development.
So the real question in the Barrow sewerage line issue isn’t just the upfront costs, but how that line would be used for future development. If it is in an industrial area and would help lure industrial growth, the upfront costs would be more than recovered by the long-term benefit of such projects.
However, if the line would only make higher-density housing available, there would be a long-term cost associated with such a project in addition to the upfront cost.
If putting a sewerage line in the proposed location isn’t a good deal for the county government, then perhaps the school system should pursue other self-contained methods of sewerage treatment for its project.