How to provide water/sewer and attract businesses while getting out of debt and not imposing a property tax was the main topic at Hoschton’s first annual council retreat held at Unicoi State Park in Helen last weekend.
Jerry Hood, with EMI, Inc., the city’s contract water engineer, led a discussion among city leaders and the employees who were present by offering a list of goals and strategies for the city to focus on between 2014-2017 pertaining to its water system.
WILL BUSINESSES COME IF HOSCHTON OFFERS SEWER?
While the city has entered into an agreement to defer its loan payments for the next three years while it works on building its water and sewer infrastructure, there are still no guarantees that businesses will come into the city if it offers sewer.
“At this point (new businesses) won’t come in if we don’t have sewer,” said Hood. “We have no guarantees…”
Council member Scott Butler asked for clarification.
“So, we could still be spending money and getting nothing back?” asked Butler.
Hoschton mayor Theresa Kenerly jumped in to say that one Hoschton business works from a satellite office because without sewer, his business can’t expand. “And he wants to expand,” said Kenerly.
City clerk Ali Merk said every business she and the mayor spoke to about the prospect of expanding sewer was excited.
“We didn’t get letters from everybody, but everybody was excited about the prospect,” said Merk.
Butler said he was trying to understand the logic in the city’s spending.
“If we spend $365,000, which could be a year’s worth of payments, to only get $20,000 back a year, I don’t see how that’s going to help us pay a $300,000 debt payment. I’m trying to understand how that math works,” he said.
Hood answered that the city would only offer sewer if there was a commitment by a business.
“This is a goal. I think the city would probably not do this unless we had a good business decision to do so,” said Hood. “I don’t think the city would go into that if it had all the numbers, all the math and if it was a good business decision. If we can plan it and get enough commitments from enough people to make it a good business decision, then let’s do that.”
Hood said the City of Jefferson had a commitment from Aldi and Tiger Direct, as well as a tax base, to make its sewer expansion profitable.
“My concern is the way this is worded, it sounds like we are committing in 36 months versus saving a lot of money,” said Butler. “I am trying to distinguish between what is real and I’m a little uncertain right now of where that lies.”
IMPROVING WATER DELIVERY/QUALITY TO CURRENT HOSCHTON RESIDENTS
Another major water topic discussed during Hood’s presentation was the delivery of water to Hoschton residents.
Jim Sawyer, the wastewater manager the city hired in the middle of 2013, was present, and offered insight into the quality of the current water delivery system, which Hood said is relatively easy to evaluate. A meter system exists to show that the city is using the water it buys and where that water goes.
Sawyer said he wasn’t sure what the city’s water loss is, but that the city is using “pretty much” all the water that it buys.
One problem that can arise is slow moving water that causes residual build up. Hoschton’s ISO fire flow rating is 4, however, which is a sufficient number to evaluate pressure in a water supply.
“Four is good,” Hood said.
Sawyer said when identifying water delivery problems, you have to go to the source. He discussed the merits of a flushing program to evaluate the quality, but said that the city doesn’t want to waste water, and it would be advantageous to look at alternatives, such as Barrow County’s readings from a flush line test.
“We can’t look at the past, we have to look at whose here now and what’s going to happen now,” said Sawyer. “We have to look at alternatives because all of our water is from one reservoir over there. What happened to some of these communities when the water goes dry? If we have other sources, then its better for us as a community, because we have to be a self-sufficient community.”
Quality of water in the city was a topic discussed during this time. Council member Jim Cleveland brought up that at his house, his water often emits a rotten egg smell. Other members, such as the mayor and council member David Poteet, disagreed.
Butler said it could be worse.
“In all fairness, if you look at the water as it’s coming in today, it is remarkably better than it was four years ago,” Scott Butler said. “It’s one of those things, that if you know how bad it could be, this is pretty good.”
Hood said he has worked in some communities where there is very low pressure, but the communities have gotten used to not having any pressure.
TIMELINE FOR GRANTS, LOANS DISCUSSED
In order to get a water facility up and running in Hoschton, the city needs to pay for it. Hood said the application process to obtain a $300,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) will cost the city $10,500 for engineer costs and an application fee. The city has to submit a formal application by March 3, which will be funded by the USDA around July or August of 2014. Under this timeline, plans and specs and bids could be started in 2015, which would cost the city roughly $55,000, and construction would be started in late 2015-2016, which would cost the city around $244,500. The money discussed has already been budgeted, according to Kenerly.
The process is slow, said Hood.
“This is a little bit of a long process,” said Hood. “It needs to go quicker. It would take some pressure on the agency to really react to us.”
Hood said the ARC is agency with the main objective to build infrastructure and create employment opportunities in the Appalachian Region and they administer fund to another agency that distributes the funds.
Kenerly asked Hood to share how Hoschton scored when told they were eligible for the loan payment deferment program with GEFA. He said Hoschton scored in the 80s out of a total point gauge in the 90s.
Butler continued to expressed his concern for spending.
“We have a three year reprieve on money and we have to watch this money diligently,” said Butler. “We’re headed for another economic downturn that could be equal to or greater than we did in 2008, so my concern is that we have limited funds...”
CORRECT DEFICIENCIES IN THE SANITARY SEWER COLLECTION SYSTEM
Hood said the sewer system evaluation, including CCTV and smoke testing, will be going on throughout the next couple of months. The cost to the city will be $47,840, which was already approved by council, said Hood.
Sawyer explained that new brushes and screen have been installed to clean out sewage coming from restaurants.
“We have to go out, get dirty and go and solve these problems,” said Sawyer.
Another area where deficiencies are seen is on Panther Court, which Hood said could be improved with a possible $500,000 CBDG grant, which would require residents and businesses to fill out surveys.
“I think we have a good 50 percent chance, depending on how the surveys come out,” said Hood. “If the results of that survey are in the 80s or 90s, that’s a great project.”
Surveys can be done door-to-door or by the telephone, said Hood. The surveys are confidential and people don’t have to give their names, only their address and an income range.
“If that works out and we get the surveys done within the next three months, then we can apply for the CBDG grant in April of 2015. He explained that survey and planning could start this year and the application process could be finished in 2015. It would cost the city $13,000.
The city of Hoschton has never had a CDBG grant, said Hood.
ALTERNATIVE WATER SUPPLIES
Options for the city’s alternative water supplies were discussed next, with Hood suggesting that the city could look at the City of Winder as an option for providing water. The viability of ground water from one of the city’s two wells is also an option. A discussion ensued about possible well water, with Hood saying that the city would need an operator to “embrace” the system.
MAKE THE WATER AND SEWER SYSTEM FINACIALLY VIABLE
Hood presented figures showing how it could pay off its debt if the city made money on its water and sewer system, although the likelihood of that happening is not very realistic, he said.
According to Hood’s data, if the city bills 50,0000 gallons per day with its exiting debt, the approximate debt service cost of wastewater treatment is currently $22 per 1,000 gallons (current). If the city bills 100,000 GOD, the debt service would be $11 per 1,000 gallons. If the city bills 200,000 GPD, the debt service would be $5.50 per 1,000 gallons. And if the city bills 500,000 GPD, the debt service would be $2.70 per 1,000 gallons.
Preventative maintenance was discussed.
Hood said tap-on fees could bring in potential revenue of $1 million if the city sells 50,000 GPD. The city currently charges $7,000 per lot for a tap fee.