As the school system’s student rosters grow, county offices expand and new businesses and new housing go up in the county seat, the small sewer system that services it all is struggling.
That’s not news.
Danielsville officials have been saying this for some time and have repeatedly asked the county for help, specifically by allocating more SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds for the city’s infrastructure, citing the many tax-exempt government entities it provides services to.
“We have been repeatedly told we needed to seek grants and loans,” Higdon told the council at its business meeting Monday night. “Well we have been working on that.”
USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) officials told Mayor Todd Hidgon and City Clerk Susan Payne a couple of weeks ago that they would not be able to obtain a government loan with the current revenue they have coming in from sewer customers.
With this information in hand, the city plans to make their case for a “partnership” going forward on upgrades to the city’s sewer system.
They have called for a meeting with county, school and industrial authority officials Friday morning at 10 a.m. in the industrial authority boardroom in the historic courthouse.
Also on hand will be Jack Stanek, the USDA’s Director of Community Programs, who will provide information on the grant/loan application process and where Danielsville stands.
Higdon said Stanek told he and Payne at their meeting that he could see that the city badly needed the financial help and that he was “frankly shocked” that they were a standalone entity with the sewer system considering their situation with government entities within the city.
Higdon said Stanek told them “I see your need, see your assets and your users” and that as things stand there is “no way possible to put a loan through” because they don’t have enough people (or entities) paying enough in fees to repay such a loan and suggested that they meet with local government officials again.
“They (USDA) has looked at the city ‘inside and out’ and understand what we have and what needs to be done,” Higdon said. “…What (Stanek) told us was a factual statement that proves the city is not ‘crying wolf’ about what we face. They can see that we have a legitimate cause here.”
Payne supplied figures to the council that averaged usage among all of Danielsville’s water customers over the previous 12 months (through the end of September). Of the 12.5 million gallons on average taken into the system annually, 59 percent of the waste came from county and school entities within the city. These include such facilities as the jail, schools and school board offices, the government complex and others. The remaining 41 percent came from city residents and small businesses.
“Everybody has got to work together to make the sewer system work,” Higdon said.
If the city cannot get help through SPLOST funding, they will likely be forced to increase the sewer rate of “high users,” which consist of these same government customers.
As an example, Higdon said a high user that has a $4,000 monthly sewer bill now could see their monthly rate triple or even quadruple over the next few years in order to bring in enough for the sewer system to keep up.
“That will have a direct and significant effect on the budgets of the county and the school system,” Payne added.
Higdon stressed that the city is simply trying to present the facts at the Friday meeting, not take an adversarial stance.
“We don’t want to raise rates,” Higdon said. “We simply want to give those involved a heads up on how things are looking.”
Higdon said that as his term as mayor ends at the end of the year, he does not want to leave office without everyone, including those coming into office, having an idea of what’s coming up over the next few years.
“I have exhausted my efforts over the last six years to explain this,” he said. “It has come down to some budgeting concerns for all of us.”
And he said he feels this is probably the single most important meeting the county has had in several years.
“The key to county growth is infrastructure,” Higdon said. “That’s what we’re working toward here.”
Higdon said he realizes the city is going to “walk out of there the bad guy.”
“The one asking for something always does,” he said.
In other business Monday night, the council held a closed session to discuss a resignation from police officer Megan Powell and agreed to accept her resignation, effective immediately. Payne said Powell cited the need to spend more time with her child as a reason for her resignation.
The council plans to discuss the vacancy in the department at their work session later this month and decide whether to go ahead and advertise for another officer or wait until the first of the year to do so.
Police Chief Jonathan Burnette told the council the department has been seeing a number of posts on social media sites, particularly Facebook’s “rants and raves” containing complaints ranging from city ordinance violations to traffic citations.
Mayor Higdon noted that many of the posts also contained support for the police department.
While Burnette said he did not plan to defend his officers or the department on social media, he did plan to make a one-time statement about the matter. He said he felt it was important for him as the leader, to stand up for his department.
Part of his statement reads: “While it is easy to criticize our profession from behind a keyboard, it is apparently harder to address it the correct way. I have looked into each incident for which grievances have been aired on a social media platform. In each instance, my officers were in the performance of their everyday duties to which I observed no callus actions on their parts. I have not been approached by any of the authors of these posts so that I may address their concerns appropriately. Each post that was made lacked credibility.”
He went on to mention programs which the department is involved in such as child safety seat checks and Operation Backpack, which collects school supplies for needy children throughout the year.
He stressed that the department has an “open-door policy” to address concerns as long as they are brought to them in person.