The Homer Town Council will soon be making a decision that could have a major impact on the future progression of the town. During a meeting held January 14, the council deliberated the benefits of providing sewer service to its residents, schools and businesses.
The council has received quotes from engineering firms to help determine if this could be a feasible venture. The firm would be tasked with meeting with the council to review current water use records and future land use projects. The firm would also meet with Banks County officials to discuss capacity availability, conduct a sewer demand projection for the next 20 years and prepare preliminary temporary collection system maps showing locations of proposed lines, pump stations and other relevant components.
In addition, the firm would provide information for acquiring easements from property owners, obtain required permits to operate the system and prepare a detailed cost estimate for required improvements. The firm would also assist with locating funding and provide a budget for operation of the sewage system.
“This is a major thing,” said councilman James Dumas. “We are talking around $4 million for the first phase- getting it to the schools, and not including the downtown area.”
Last year, the Banks County Board of Commissioners applied for $6 million to fund expansion of the county sewer system. Since Homer would be looking to tie into the county system, Mayor Doug Cheek said dialog with the BOC is pertinent in order to keep abreast of their progress. “We would be tying into the county system – we would have to negotiate with them,” said Cheek.
But this is not a done deal, yet. Councilman Jerry Payne expressed concern for financial sustainability of the town if operation of a sewer system fails. “I understand there have been city’s that have gotten financially into trouble because of their sewer systems because they couldn’t handle it – we don’t want to get into that situation,” Payne said.
“It’s a little scary to me with no city property taxes and with just water revenue and special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) taxes,” Dumas said.
Cheek said the council should decide whether to go forward or not within the next 60 to 90 days.
“We either have to say we are going forward, or we aren’t going to do it,” Payne said.
The council envisioned more businesses moving into the area if the city could offer sewer service.
“The future of Homer 20 or 30 years from now really rests in decision being made now,” said Dumas.
The council resumed a discussion initiated during a work session held last week on increasing water and garbage rates. Dumas said one proposal being considered is to increase the base rate to $16 for the first 3,000 gallons of water usage and $6 for each additional gallon. In addition, garbage fees could increase to $17. Water rates have not increased since 2016 and garbage fees have remained unchanged since 2005.
“We have done an excellent job at getting our water system in good shape,” Dumas said. “But you can’t go back every five or six years and borrow another half million dollars to do it – that has to be paid back.” Dumas said the city needs a fund to repair and replace components within the system as they wear out.
The city has reached out to the Georgia Rural Water Association for recommendations of where the water rates should be. Dumas said a representative from GRWA said he would recommend the city base rates on the size of each meter.
I think there is a need for us to develop a fund so that we can replace meters, replace pipes and make repairs and right now, we just don’t have that luxury,” said Dumas.
“We need to be able to maintain and we need to be able to pay back what we owe,” said Payne.
The council is looking at possibly increasing the water rates in April– four years from the last increase. In the meantime, the council will hold public hearings and receive citizen’s comments before reaching a decision.
In other business, the council,
Reappointed Jerry Payne as Mayor Pro-tem; Cliff Hill, Fire Chief; David Syfan, City Attorney; Hammond Law, Municipal Judge and Carol Ayers as City Clerk and Court Clerk.
The council is considering increasing compensation for the mayor and council. Currently, each member receives $35 per meeting. A proposal could increase the mayor’s salary to $125 and councilmembers salary to $100 per meeting. Any decision by the council would not go into effect until after the next election. In addition, the council will be considering employee pay to bring them in line with other surrounding agencies.