There are no filings in the county zoning office. There are only hypotheticals for county leaders at this point.

But the county industrial authority has been asked whether it could handle sewer services for a potential 250-unit apartment complex south of Ingles off Hwy. 29. And the issue was discussed at the industrial authority’s May meeting last week. A representative for the property had not returned a call as of this writing for more information on potential plans.

There may, in fact, ultimately be no development proposed to county leaders. But the county industrial authority oversees all county-operated infrastructure in Madison County, and even the idea of a development requires a big-picture outlook on county growth.

Madison County IDA Executive Director Frank Ginn, who also serves as state senator for District 47, offered thoughts this week on county infrastructure. He said a major residential development in the Ingles area is not ideal for the sewer system. The county sewer system in the Dogsboro area, which has been in service for years, serves Ingles and several other businesses, but only uses about 20 percent of its capacity. The plant is permitted to handle 50,000 gallons of sewage a day. Ginn said the sewer plant is intended to help boost commercial growth in the area, adding that taking on a major residential development would require expansion of the system.

“We don’t want to expand just for that (a residential development), because that’s not what we’re chartered with,” said Ginn. “We’re chartered to bring commercial, industrial growth to the county. So when we look, it’s a situation that will require a good bit of study and we’re trying to get the facts for it…. If we added in a residential development, we kind of block ourselves off from commercial/industrial, but it would help pay the bills, so there’s a catch 22.”

A major apartment complex would affect more than the county sewer system. It would have an impact on the school system and county services. And the possibility of a residential development comes as the county nears an update to its comprehensive land use plan.

Meanwhile, there is also $5.8 million in federal stimulus funds allocated to the Madison County government through the American Rescue Plan — along with another $8.8 million to the county school system. Infrastructure upgrades could be covered with the county government’s federal money. And there’s also been discussion of using those funds — perhaps both county and school — to establish countywide broadband internet services. But Ginn said he sees a problem with the broadband idea: What company gets to the be the winner, and what companies are the losers if the county pays to install broadband, then turns over operations to a single provider? He said this would essentially be a gratuity to one company over another.

“Say the county put in fiber throughout the county, well are those other companies going to use it?” asked Ginn. “How do you not give one county an advantage over another.”

The IDA director said he would rather see the federal funds go toward expanding water services in the county. For instance, he noted that expanding services and helping Shiloh, Poca and Collins areas could improve fire protection and lower homeowner insurance rates in those areas.

“I’d like to see us expand our water system and get better fire protection for those residents,” he said. “We’re trying to build a water system throughout the county.”

Ginn said he doesn’t favor boosting sewer capacity in the county with the federal money without having a customer to use the services.

“You have to have a customer that says we’re going to build an industrial plant or super Walmart or something of that nature, some type of facility that needs a lot of sewer service,” said Ginn. “And then you can say, OK, now we know we have someone who is going to pay for that development of the sewer service. If you go build a bunch of sewer capacity and you don’t have any customers, you’re kind of like we are right now. We got about 20 percent usage on our plant (in the Hull area) and it’s hard to pay bills when you only have that. You have 20 percent of the revenue and 100 percent of the debt.”

NOTE: The Madison County IDA, which is working on adjusting its water rate structures, has moved its regular meeting to the fourth Wednesday of each month at 8 a.m. in the historic county courthouse in the center of Danielsville.

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