Valdosta Daily Times

March 16, 2013

City talks SPLOST at retreat

Water, sewer get higher priority

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta City Council discussed a new priority list for the seventh cycle of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax during their planning retreat at the Lenox River Ranch Friday.

The City and County plan to campaign for another SPLOST referendum in November to help fund municipal projects for both governments, and the City plans to make an effort to spend a large percentage of those dollars on water and sewer improvements.

The City has increased its budget for water and sewer projects to 36.9 percent of the total SPLOST revenues for Lowndes County and cities, adding another $29 million to the price tag of $26.4 million appearing on the original referendum for a  total of $55.4 million.

The City plans to match this budget with a new loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority in the amount of $32 million, putting the budget at $87.4 million.

A proposed $20 million is allocated for the relocation of the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant out of the 100-year flood plain, and most of the remaining budget is proposed to retire old GEFA debt from the construction of a new force main to the Mud Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and other sewer projects.

The City plans to leave in the bank $10 million available for other projects.

City Manager Larry Hanson explained to the Council that while the proposal asks $55.4 million out of SPLOST VII, and that the WWTP relocation will require only $20 million of those funds, a loan renewal would be necessary to make more immediate progress on proposed projects.

“You have to have a way to pay for those projects through loans,” Hanson said. “You have to have a financing mechanism in place so you don’t have to wait six years for the SPLOST. And there are still other things we’ll need to pay to keep the (WWTP) operational. We’re going to continue to have to keep that plant operating and keep it in compliance.”

Hanson also mentioned a current project to inspect all 600 miles of the city sewer system with video cameras to find weak spots that could lead to infiltration and inflow (I&I).

“We’ve done 75 miles so far in three years, and we have to have additional money to continue to rehabilitate the system,” Hanson said.

The Utilities Department has discovered “not as many problems as anticipated” during these inspections, and expects about 50 percent of the I&I problems to exist along the line that runs along Meadow Brook, Hanson said.

Councilman Robert Yost spoke in strong favor of the proposed water and sewer budget, and urged the Council to consider adding more to the budget.

“I would really like us to look close at what we budget for this,” Yost said. “What happens if something happens to the plant and it costs us a million dollars? I really would like to see more money moved over from all the other categories and put it in here, to pay down more debt or fix more of the problems we have. I really think this is the meat and potatoes of what the SPLOST is for.”

Hanson agreed with Yost that paying off more debt sooner “would not be a bad thing.”

Plans for a new auditorium complex at Five Points are not listed in the new SPLOST budget.