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June 30, 2006

JCWSA tells Butts Co WSA it is in need of Money

The June 21, 2006 Edition of the Jackson Progress-Argus had an interesting article concerning JCWSA. Butts Co WSA was told "Your poor cousins have come over to beg for a little help from you." After several answers to the questions posed by BCWSA members, JCWSA received a loan instead of the mutual assistance they were hoping for.

Following is the article that appeared in the Jackson (Butts County) paper:
Below that are TWG comments.


BCWSA loans Jasper $15,000

June 21, 2006, JPA, Stewart Voegtlin

Will cover debt services

As with any major construction project, cost tends to pile up rather quickly and nowhere does this ring truer than with infrastructure. The Jasper County Water and Sewer Authority has certainly found this out, as the Authority engages a plan to make it possible to eventually lay pipeline over the bridge at Highway 16 and the Ocmulgee River. The pipe will eventually be used to carry 16-inch water mains under the bridge’s approach slabs. The Authority had stressed the project’s importance with Jasper County Commissioners to no avail; it had also appealed to state representatives and even the governor. In a last ditch effort, the Authority made the drive to Butts County to have a sit-down with the Butts County Water and Sewer Authority at its regular monthly meeting held June 13.

"Your poor cousins have come over to beg for a little help from you," said Jasper County Water and Sewer Authority Chairman Brack Pound. "We knew we had [the Ocmulgee River Bridge] going on [at Highway 16] and we were hoping to get a little help from [Governor Sonny Perdue] but nothing’s come up yet. This is the final hour and now we’ve come to see y’all: We want y’all to consider tying in at the Ocmulgee River Bridge."

Pound and other members of the Jasper County Water and Sewer Authority had requested money from Jasper County Commissioners, and had exhausted every grant option with the help of State Representative Jim Cole and State Senator Johnny Grant.

"There are several reasons why I think this is a good idea," said Pound. "I know you will be spending a little bit more money for that expanded water system; a customer would help fund that cost and we could be that customer. Connecting our water systems would benefit both of us in the event of emergency, too. And then there’s the issue of peak demands: If you approach that peak amount and we’re able to supply you water during that, it might be economically feasible for y’all to hold off on expansion. We understand that the Authority is also working on the Big Sandy Creek, and I understand that you might need a joint partner; we’d like to be that joint partner.

"When we spoke with the Environmental Protection Division [EPD] the other day, they told us that we should express our desire to be one of your customers," Pound continued. "People are looking more and more for counties to cooperate. And the thing is: the [Ocmulgee River]’Bridge is going to be vastly expensive if we don’t do something about it. But, we don’t have any cash. We just put in five miles of line in and we’ve only got 240 customers - 50 inactive customers. And all of the county’s growth is where the water is: the northern part of the county. If we could get together with y’all and get a loan, that $60,000 figure is going to look real small to us. On the other hand, if we wait and end up having to pay $300,000 to put that bridge in, that could be trouble. Long story made short: we think we need each other."

"Can you bring me up to speed on your system?" asked Water Authority Board Member Mitch McEwen.

"Thirty to 40 miles of line is in North Jasper," said Jasper County Water and Sewer Authority Executive Director Linda Jordan. "We get water from Newton off of Highway 212. Most of our customers are down Countyline Road."

"The pipe has to be run across the bridge; I suppose there are other ways we connect, but that’s very expensive," said Pound.

"Is the main going to be under the highway?" asked BCWSA General Manager Marcie Seleb.

"The thing is: we don ‘t know what the answer is; we don’t have a set of plans," said Pound.

"There’s something scary about this to me," said Butts County Water and Sewer Authority Board Chairman J.B. White. "My gosh, I mean, what would we do if something went wrong with this?"

"We were told to use steel pipes," said Jasper j County Water and Sewer Authority
Board Member Ken McMichael. "That way, there’s less chance of something going
awry."

"It just doesn’t seem like you would want the pipes under the pavement at all," said Seleb.

"If we could wait to do this, we certainly would," said Jordan.

"You know, sometimes we make bets, Jimmy," said Pound. "I know we do, and I ain’t ever lost one," said White. "Well, that’s better than most of us," laughed Pound.

"The only reason we are here is to ask for just enough help to make it work," said McMichael. "We’re applying for a Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority [GEFA] grant" but with our tight finances, we don’t even know if GEFA will approve. If you could make the first three payments, we could make the next 17 payments."

"Y’all don’t have a whole lot of support from your commissioners, do you?" asked McEwen.

"This is the most important infrastructure project of the past 20 years," said McMichael. "If you don’t have an adequate water supply, you don’t get economic development,"

"Ken [McMichael] was appointed to this Board by the [Jasper County] commissioners," said Pound. "He's tried his best to get their support, but we’re not getting it"

"What’s your long-term plan?" asked Butts County Water and Sewer Authority Board Member Bob Harris.

"Jasper has a fantastic source of water," said Pound. "At the bottom of every hill, there’s water. There’s no concern about where the water’s coming from. We are going to have to receive funding from the [Jasper County] SPLOST to think long-term, but we’re simply doing what we can, which is tie in with our neighbors."

"Basically, all we’ve ever committed to is if or when y’all needed water - if we had the capacity, or weren’t overwhelmed by growth - we’d consider selling you water," said White. "Am I right about that?"

"That was actually [the Authority’s] agreement to the [Jasper County] commissioners," said Seleb.

"Well, let’s cut to the chase," said White. "What’s the dollar amount?"

"It would be around $15,000, wouldn’t it?" asked Seleb.

"How much water are you getting from Newton [County]?" asked McEwen.

"We’re using a very small amount of 300,000 gallons per day," said Jordan.

"Is there an estimate of usage per day?" asked Seleb.

"Six to seven million gallons per day with a population of 6,000," said Pound.

"Let me get this straight: you’re asking for us to donate a flat fee- to help with no strings attached, and in the event that it works out, we helped you get it?" asked White.

"Exactly," said Pound. "But it may benefit you, too, down the road."

"What are the time constraints?" asked McEwen.

"We’re going through the GEFA loan, but your help would increase our chance of getting the loan," said McMichael. "I’ve been working for a year now just trying to make this happen."

"What if we just worked out a loan?" asked White. "I think it might look good to the taxpayers over [in Jasper County] and I think it will shame your commissioners that you had to come over here to borrow money.

"If we did this," continued White, "we could draw up a loan for $15,000 to just get you going. It might ring a shot over to Jasper County to some of those folks."

"I don’t see why that wouldn’t work, " said Pound. "If it’s only $15,000, maybe we could make it a three-year loan, " said White. "The only thing is that those 10 percent of folks that don’t have water here are going to be saying, "Why are they helping out Jasper County if we don’t have water?"

"If we don’t get our money, we’ll just turn it over to collections," laughed Seleb.
"I think this is good," said White. "We’ve got the money and I think this is extending a laurel branch to the community."

"I don’t have a problem with it at all," said Harris. "We’ve got people that are going to criticize us no matter what," said Butts County Water and Sewer Authority Board Vice Chairman Emerson Burford. "Criticism would be nothing new. I see no problem with this."

Board Member Bob Harris made a motion to loan the Jasper County Water and Sewer Authority $15,000 over three years. Board Member Mitch McEwen seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.

The $15,000 will pay debt services for money the Jasper Authority borrows over the next 20 years to pay for the Highway 16 Bridge project. After three years, Jasper will generate enough revenue to pay the note. The proposed interconnection of systems will only be enabled in event of emergency.

"We will pay this back and we sure do appreciate it," said Pound.

"Ya’ll might be the ones that really help us out one day," said Seleb.
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TWG Comments:

Just recently, Mr. McMichael of the JCWSA approached the JCBOC about the "bridge project." He suggested they either give the JCWSA money or co-sign on a 20-year loan. The citizens of Butts County and the BCWSA members might all be interested in why the Jasper County Commissioners didn’t think that would be a wise move.

JCWSA has approximately $660,000 left over from a USDA grant according to what Mr. McMichael told the JCBOC. Rather than using part of this money for the "bridge project" (as suggested by the JCBOC), the JCWSA wants to run 5 miles of line down Jackson Lake Rd. to serve a proposed subdivision and maybe pick up 30-40 new customers.

Quoting from the article, "This is the most important infrastructure project of the past 20 years," said McMichael. "If you don’t have an adequate water supply, you don’t get economic development." Question—why doesn’t JCWSA use the money they have for this project if it is that important? JCWSA recently reported that D&J Pipeline had submitted a change order for the Jackson Lake Road extension project. The initial bid of $775,463 had been adjusted to $584,114. The project will be completed with remaining USDA loan funds. If JCWSA has $660,000, wouldn’t they have $75,886 left for the "bridge project"? Why is JCWSA begging BCWSA for money?

JCWSA was supposed to apply for a state grant but the application needed to include an engineering plan. Sources have told us that the engineer for JCWSA delayed as long as possible to keep General Assembly from having time to help with any grant money. At their last board meeting in June, JCWSA said they would get a line of credit from the Bank of Monticello. Has this fallen through, too? Do you wonder why JCWSA has a hard time getting loans and grants?

JCWSA’s audited financials reveal debt of $2,436,909, and debt service in 2006 will be $123,124. The audit for FYE 12/31/05 shows operating revenue of $82,462.

An authority of any type is supposed to stand on its own. The house bill creating JCWSA says it is to support itself with its own revenues. It’s not something the taxpayers are supposed to support; the users of the system are to support JCWSA. That brings us to how many customers JCWSA has; customer base is essential for debt service.

After running almost 50 miles of line for the last 4 years, JCWSA has somewhere between 210 and 240 customers. The figure varies with every news story. JCWSA has $2.4 million of debt. Mr. Pound is quoted in your paper saying, "The thing is: we don ‘t know what the answer is; we don’t have a set of plans," said Pound. He’s right. The only plan has been to run lines where the JCWSA thinks there will be possible residential development.

Mrs. Jordan, Executive Director, said, "We’re using a very small amount of 300,000 gallons per day," when asked about water usage. This statement is not quite accurate. JCWSA can purchase up to 300,000 gallons a day from Newton County; however, they buy around 33,000 gallons a day and use a portion of that to keep their lines flushed. There would have to be many more customers on line to purchase 10 times more water than they are using now.

"Is there an estimate of usage per day?" asked Seleb. "Six to seven million gallons per day with a population of 6,000," said Pound. This isn’t quite accurate either. A big month for JCWSA has them buying just over 1 million gallons a MONTH from Newton County. Mr. Pound speaks of figures that were projected by the Bear Creek Reservoir project. A population of 6,000 means 6,000 users on the JCWSA system. That’s a far cry from the present 240.

The organizers of the JCWSA (who were the only ones to serve until Jasper County elected a new board of commissioners) told the BOC and citizens that there needed to be water and sewer authority to bring industry to Jasper County. After 7 years of being in existence, JCWSA is not serving any new industry and has not run lines to entice or accommodate new industry for the county.

Several interested citizens, including Mr. McMichael before he was appointed to the JCWSA board, have tried for years to get a "pipe under the bridge" in the works so when the new bridge was built everything would be ready. The JCWSA board has had little interest in this project—now it seems there’s been a change in their perspective. JCWSA has only been interested in the "Bear Creek Reservoir" project with Newton County for the past several years and has failed to look at other alternatives, including Thomas Brothers on Snapping Shoals and wells to provide water needs for Jasper County.

Did BCWSA know about the debt, the number of customers, the lack of plans, or any other details about the business of JCWSA before they lent the money? Mr. McMichael informed our BOC that it might be 2 or 3 years before JCWSA could pay $5,000 a year on a note and therefore they wanted the Jasper BOC to co-sign on a 20-year loan.

At the BCWSA meeting, Mr. McMichael is quoted as saying, "The only reason we are here is to ask for just enough help to make it work. We’re applying for a Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority [GEFA] grant, but with our tight finances, we don’t even know if GEFA will approve. If you could make the first three payments, we could make the next 17 payments." Is that what the $15,000 loan is for? To help pay JCWSA debt? What’s another $15,000 when you already owe $2.3 million and don’t have enough customers to make the debt service?

TWG
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