Tonight’s Euharlee City Council work session regarding the possibility of linking a sewer line with Bartow County could be the bellwether of the city’s future says City Manager James Stephens.
“This project between Bartow County and the city of Euharlee has been in discussion for several years,” Stephens said. “It has developed to the point that the county has the job out for bid so we have to come to a decision.”
Stephens said the initial cost estimates were under $2 million, but have increased to about $4.6 million.
“The bid is constructed in two parts — Part A is designated for the county and Part B is designated for Euharlee — but the county has proposed capping Euharlee’s cost at $2 million,” he said. “In addition, the county has offered an intergovernmental agreement that would allow us to pay them rather than have to pay a direct lender.
“It would carry about a 1.4 percent interest rate, which is better than anything we could get in the bond market. It’s spread over 20 years with no early penalty — a most appealing financial arrangement.”
Stephens said although $2 million is an extremely high commitment for a city the size of Euharlee, the county’s cooperation makes it feasible, and even more important, is the key to the city being able to operate as a city.
Most of Euharlee’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) money is used to cover debt service bonds — approximately $600,000 a year — is paid in two payments and will be paid in full in March 2020 so a reserve can be accumulated thereafter.
“The payments for the sewer projects are scheduled to begin in December 2019 just before the final payment is made on the bonds,” he said. “With the bonds paid off, we would be able to cover this debt service using SPLOST money until the next SPLOST referendum passes. Not only would we be able to cover this debt service (sewers) of about $117,000 annually; we would have a half million dollars a year to develop our downtown area and take care of other capital projects.”
If the referendum fails, however, the contract requires the city to meet the debt service anyway at a cost of about $1.2 million.
Some residents and council members have expressed skepticism that the project won’t benefit many residents.
Of the city’s approximately 4,000 residents, only a handful living on Euharlee Road would immediately be able to tie into the line.
Stephens said although the project doesn’t provide immediately for residents, it may be the spark needed to attract businesses and residential developments.
“We will see commercial redevelopment on Euharlee Road and in the downtown area,” Stephens said. “That’s the key reason I support the project. When you look at Euharlee Road, there’s not a lot of undeveloped property along the route of the sewer but if Euharlee wants to move on as a city, it’s imperative to move on with this project. The reality is with everything that is going on in the county, it is incumbent for us to do something to make the city attractive to growth.”
Although a limited number of residents would immediately benefit, Stephens said there is wording in the agreement that specifies how the county would handle requests for future extensions.
“It’s highly likely that the sewer line will be extended along Stiles road and continue along Euharlee Road,” Stephens said. “It’s also very likely that some of the bigger residential developments will tie into the line as well.”
Stephens is hopeful that residents will attend the work session to make their feelings about the project known.
“I think they all understand that this is key to our future but some are concerned with the magnitude of the cost,” he said. “I hope we can have a meaningful discussion and hear all sides of the story.”
The Euharlee City Council work session is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Euharlee City Hall.