This is the third of a three-part series taking a look at issues that will face newly elected county commissioners.
Click here for more elections coverage.
The future of Hall County is largely dependent on the development of water and sewer infrastructure.
In the coming years, the board of commissioners will be making important decisions regarding sewer systems in North and South Hall as well as the progress of the future Glades Reservoir.
The reservoir, which is planned on 850-acres in the northeastern part of the county, is slated to provide future water supply for Hall County, the city of Gainesville and Forsyth County.
Hall County and Gainesville staffs have been meeting for weeks to iron out disagreements over the funding of the Glades Reservoir, which will be connected to the existing Cedar Creek Reservoir. Public Works Director Ken Rearden said the county is working on a business plan.
“It’s basically ... budget estimates of all the assets that would be constructed eventually and trying to determine what the customer base would be to pay for all these assets,” Rearden said. “It’s just complicated. It’s like 300 pages of data and calculations. It’s not like on the back of a napkin. We’re looking at this thing very thoroughly. We hope to have that available by mid to late July.”
On Thursday, the Gainesville City Council discussed moving forward with plans for a water treatment plant at the existing Cedar Creek reservoir.
“Our goal with that is to design in it such a way that it could meet the need for Glades,” said Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett. “We’re still waiting for the county to share with us a business plan.”
The reservoir became a regional project last year after U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that Lake Lanier was not a federally authorized source of drinking water for metro Atlanta.
Since the ruling, the project has shifted in scope from a reservoir that would provide 6 million gallons a day up to a 100- million gallon per day lake.
Hall County plans to expand the project by pumping water from the Chattahoochee River to increase the reservoir’s capacity more than tenfold.
Rearden said in the near future, commissioners will need to work with other governments to iron out the details of the reservoir.
“We’ve got to work out some agreements with those two governmental agencies to put that water into their systems,” Rearden said.
Commissioners will also need to find a rate structure for South Hall sewer customers. Residents in the Sterling on the Lake, Reunion and Village at Deaton Creek neighborhoods currently pay a flat rate of $42 per month.
They have vocally opposed the high rates, coming before the commission twice over the last two years without finding an agreeable solution to the system’s financing issues.
Hall County inherited the $42 rate when it purchased the private sewage system from developer John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods.
The main issue behind the high rates is the low number of users that are paying to operate the system and pay off the debt.
With the housing market slump, the system did not see the projected growth that would have helped spread costs among more residential users and new businesses.
“I don’t know if they’re going to ask me to dust off the latest rate study when we get the new commission seated,” Rearden said. “I’m just sitting on hold until they tell me what to do.”
The commissioners will also have input into the development of the North Hall sewer system. Sewer infrastructure is expected to bring economic development to the largely rural area of the county.
“We’re in the final stages of the master planning. We’re working on the financing portion of that to talk about what potential rates would be there,” Rearden said. “We’ve briefed the commission with the layout of the sewer and are ready to do another public meeting.”
Hall County will be working with Lula, which is building a new waste water treatment plan. The county already has bought capacity at the future plant to serve the area south of Ga. 52.
“We went to Lula (Wednesday) and met with their mayor,” Rearden said. “We’re looking at some plants up in that area and many thousand linear feet of gravity sewer and pump stations and pressure pipe systems.”
Two huge planned communities — Hagen Creek and Cane Creek — have been approved by Hall County and will need sewer infrastructure before construction.
“We’ve got estimated costs for the next 20 years of the sewer analyzed and we are ready to put that cost into a rate structure,” Rearden said.