Gainesville City Council is expected to consider a resolution next week that would support Hall County’s application for state investment in developing the Glades Reservoir.
Hall County filed its original application with the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority in April, asking for about $14.5 million in state funding from the Governor’s Water Supply Program.
It submitted an amended application this week that would change the way the project is financed. The amended application proposes that instead of using capacity and debt service fees as revenue, it would add an annual fee to all of the 75,000 taxed parcels of land in the county.
The application states the fee would start at $70 in 2015 and gradually decrease to zero in 2036.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners approved the joint resolution at its meeting Thursday. The item wasn’t discussed in Monday’s work session and was not listed on the agenda for the board meeting. The county needs to find about $96.2 million in funding.
The planned Glades Reservoir, which is estimated to cost $130 million, is expected to be an 850-acre reservoir in the Upper Chattahoochee River Basin of North Hall that could provide 30 million to 40 million gallons of water per day to Northeast Georgia residents, the application’s cover letter states.
The joint resolution states Gainesville “has reviewed and concurs with Hall County’s application to (GEFA) for state finance assistance, since the application will not require water rate or fee increases on Gainesville’s water customers.”
Kelly Randall, the city Public Works director, worked with a county consultant on the joint resolution. He presented the agreement to City Council members during their work session Thursday morning. He said he reviewed the resolution with City Manager Kip Padgett before presenting it to council.
“It shows some cooperation between the city and the county and that we’re not at perpendicular loggerheads to each other on this issue,” Randall said.
County Administrator Randy Knighton said the property tax fee was one possible option. He said the county plans to pursue all available options and funding sources. Public Information Officer Katie Crumley said the county will pursue all options outside of rate increases and fee increases on Gainesville water customers.
While the new financing option in the amended application doesn’t put the burden of collecting revenue for the project just on Gainesville water customers, it’s likely some of those landowners will have to pay the property tax fee if it is approved by the county board of commissioners in the future. The city supplies water to much of the unincorporated area of Hall County.
Asked why the fee is better than water rate increases, Gainesville Mayor Bob Hamrick said he didn’t know. Councilman George Wangemann said he also didn’t know.
Hamrick said he has questions to which he wants answers. Wangemann said the city generally agrees with the concept of the Glades Reservoir.
“We don’t want to have to raise our rates to pay for this,” Wangemann said. “The Glades Farm project belongs to the county.”
The joint resolution supports the application but doesn’t specify how the project will be financed.
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Sally Bethea said the fee of $70 may apply to landowners even though the water won’t be needed for decades. The fee would be the same if a landowner has half an acre or thousands of acres.
Bethea said the benefit to the city may be that the revenue is spread to more people than just city ratepayers. It’s been mostly backroom dealing, she said.
“They can put anything in the application, and then the question becomes will GEFA give them the money,” Bethea said. “At least after years of backroom dealing to push this unneeded reservoir, the people of Hall County and elected officials will finally have a chance to express their opinion and that is whether Glades Reservoir (is) worth their money or not.”