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Hall County may use SPLOST to pay sewer debt
Move would help keep sewer rates in check
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South Hall sewer users could avoid the high sewer rates proposed by the county earlier this year.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners decided at its Monday work session to use SPLOST VI funds to help pay the debt owed on the Mulberry Creek Sewer Project. An actual vote will come at Thursday's 5 p.m. board meeting.

The high sewer rates are the result of little demand for sewer in the area.

"The economy is driving that also," said Finance Director Michaela Thompson. "Some of the revenue to pay for that project comes from connections and usage fees, which are way lower than what was expected for the project."

Hall County bought the Spout Springs sewer plant in 2007 in response to rapid growth in South Hall.

The plant was formerly a private facility that serviced three growing subdivisions - Sterling on the Lake, Reunion and The Village at Deaton Creek.

In order to accommodate the growth, the county also bought sewer capacity at Mulberry Creek from Gainesville.

County officials expected the South Hall area to continue booming, but the recession put a damper on growth.

"By doing this resolution, then we can use SPLOST VI for the total debt of the project to kind of offset where we had the declines in the other revenue," Thompson said. "But one of the biggest things is it will allow us to have more flexibility to set users rates."

The resolution will transfer the Mulberry Creek project to the Gainesville/Hall County Development Authority.

Assistant Hall County Administrator Phil Sutton said doing so gives the county more flexible financing options.

"It makes it much cleaner and simpler and more straightforward if we use the development authority to do it," Sutton said. "The development authority assumes the responsibility for the project in its simpler form and we make progress payments toward that. So they assume the debt that's accumulated and will be accumulated in order to build these sewer facilities. Some of it's been spent, some of it will be spent in the future. The county then makes debt payments on behalf of the development authority or to the development authority in an equal amount."

Flowery Branch Councilman Craig Lutz said he was glad to hear Hall County is working toward lower sewer rates in his area.

"The debt the county had on that system was unsustainable for the amount of users," Lutz said. "Hall County still has to work on their operational costs but obviously paying off the debt and getting rid of the interest that goes along with the debt is going to be a major, major factor to keep from having the sewer rates get to a level that's unaffordable."