SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. - Overhauling the water and sewer system has been a priority of Social Circle’s city government for years, and the City Council inched closer to an actionable plan for doing so Tuesday.
An outside consultant presented potential plans for paying for the upgrades, which will likely include special-purpose local option sales tax allocation and rate increases.
This analysis comes on the heels of another analysis to determine what upgrades need to be made. On the water side, the first priority is to replace the central distribution system, which city officials said is outdated and struggles to keep up with demand.
The second priority is to extend water lines to the industrial areas outside of town to allow for more growth. These improvements are estimated to cost between $500,000 to $1 million a year for 10 years.
On the sewer side, the problems are largely geographical. Social Circle’s water treatment plant sits on top of a hill, while the growth areas like the industrial zones, are much lower. This creates a slow and expensive system, as the city must pump sewage uphill to treat it.
Replacing the entire system would be extremely expensive, so the city plans to link systems with a Newton County plant and pay them to treat it. This would allow the city to replace some of the 22 pump stations around the city that push sewage uphill with a more reliable gravity system.
Other priorities are to rehabilitate old lines and extend service to industrial areas. Three sewage spills in the last month show the urgency of these upgrades. The price tag for them would be $1 million to $1.5 million for 10 years.
This means the city will borrow about $20 million with 30-year bonds. They hired Davenport and Co., consultants who work with city governments, to work out strategies to finance this debt.
Davenport can back with a menu of options. In the likely scenarios, up to $2 million of it will come from prioritizing water and sewer needs in the 2018-24 SPLOST.
Another chunk of money will come from the Water and Sewer Enterprise Fund, which is comprised of earnings by the water and sewer system. Currently the fund has an about $800,000 surplus and will continue earning in the future. This will allow it to contribute about 10 percent of the revenue earned each year.
The rest will be covered by rate increases. Historically, the city has favored higher than average rate increases but not raising rates every year. For example, rates went up 10.4 percent and 10.2 percent in 2014 and 2015 respectively, but did not increase in 2016 or 2017. While this plan would raise them every year, it would stay below the historic average rate increase if those increases were averaged out on a per-year basis.
The council will continue to debate the merits of these plans in the future. A vote on how to proceed has not been scheduled.