For $3 million to $3.5 million, Nicholson could have a sewer collection system along the U.S. 441 corridor, providing opportunities for commercial development and providing relief for Benton Elementary and possibly some of the East Jackson schools.
Eight people representing Nicholson, the Nicholson Water Authority and the Jackson County School System met last Friday in Jefferson to discuss how that might happen.
As a soccer match played out silently on two wide-screen TV sets at Beef O’Brady’s, Nicholson Water Authority engineer Mike Bledsoe explained that officials are gathering data regarding when and how to provide sewer service to bring commercial development into the town.
NWA members Mike Stowers, chairman, and Paul Cartledge; Mayor Ronnie Maxwell, Jackson county school superintendent April Howard and county school board members Lynne Wheeler, chairman, and Celinda Wilson, took part in the discussion. Commerce city manager Pete Pyrzenski had been invited, but could not attend.
“We’ve been talking to Commerce about the potential of them taking our sewer on an interim basis,” Stowers told the group.
That, said Bledsoe, would mean Nicholson could focus its effort and money on building a collection system.
“We don’t want to spend a lot of money for land and a treatment plant if we don’t have the flow,” he said. “We would spend it on collection. Commerce has excess capacity. We could give the capacity back to them in 10-15 years.”
Bledsoe repeatedly stressed the preliminary nature of the discussions for a system that, in the beginning, would likely run along U.S. 441 from just south of the city limits to Hoods Mill Road on the north.
“Our goal is to work on creating the spine along U.S. 441. When the developers come back, it will be their responsibility to extend (to the spine),” Bledsoe explained.
Funding options include cash, special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) revenue, grants and loans, and Cartledge pointed out that the odds of getting grants would be improved if Nicholson, the NWA, the Jackson County BOE and Commerce are all involved.
Currently, Nicholson has no sewer service. Problems with septic tanks have created issues at the Dollar General Store, the East Jackson Park and have “run off” potential restaurants, according to Bledsoe, who also pointed out that all potential commercial developers want access to sewer service and fire protection. Septic systems, he noted, increase a developer’s cost due to the extra land required.
According to Stowers, Pyrzenski approached the Nicholson Water Authority in regard to providing sewerage treatment for the city.
“They want people to utilize their utilities,” Bledsoe said. “That’s their motivation.” He suggested that, in return, Nicholson could help Commerce market its natural gas system to those new businesses since the city’s six-inch gas main passes through Nicholson.
All of the parties expressed interest in the project. The next step, said Bledsoe, is to try to nail down a price and look at potential funding sources.
“Based on that, then do a feasibility study and talk to the owners of undeveloped land,” he said. “Ultimately, we’ll get to a feasibility study that will tell us whether or not we can afford it.”
Providing sewer service to the East Jackson School complex also came up. Howard said the board of education plans to build an agricultural center on the EJCHS campus, but is contemplating whether to build it “school size” or a larger facility that could be used for regional events. Access to a sewer system would reduce the cost and not tie up as much land.
“We’ll do it in the next year, year and a half,” she said. “Our kids need it.”
If the board opts for the smaller size, the ag facility will be entirely funded with education local option sales tax (ELOST) dollars. If it takes the regional approach, other funding sources will be required.
Bledsoe suggested that the sewer project might qualify for funding in with three-year community development block grant that would provide $1.5 million with a 10 percent match. The project could also attract USDA funding in the form of a 70-percent loan and 30-percent grant. Each of those, he said, could reduce the amount of local funds needed to sewer Nicholson.
“If we keep whittling it down, we can afford it,” he said.
A reoccurring theme among all parties is that a sewerage system will spur growth for Nicholson — not just commercial, but also residential and industrial.
Maxwell suggested that people are already anxious to annex into Nicholson, but are hampered because their property is not contiguous to the city limits. He said citizens in Center have asked about annexation.
“Nicholson is in a bubble,” he said. “If we ever break that bubble, we can annex almost to the high school. People like what’s going on in Nicholson and want to be part of it. Nicholson could be a big town landwise.”
Cartledge offered the opinion that if one big company locates in the U.S. 441 corridor, it will spur other companies to do the same. Maxwell told the group that having a sewer system would allow Nicholson to “get first-rate stuff instead of stuff that just flows our way.”
Howard, at one point, cautioned that growth must contain a balance of industrial and commercial properties — a reference to building the tax base a cash-strapped school system needs.