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Potential buyout of Lula sewer system, $183 million TSPLOST discussed at Hall meeting in Augusta
Hall County Government Center

A buyout of the Lula sewer system and a transportation special purpose local option sales tax are on Hall County’s agenda in the coming months.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners covered a huge amount of material in its early October planning session in Augusta. Commissioners met in Augusta during an annual meeting of ACCG, the statewide county association, on Oct. 11 for an all-day, long-range planning meeting to plot the course for the coming year and beyond.

The session included presentations on a range of issues from department heads handling finance, planning and zoning, public works, human resources and county administration.

There were a large number of projects and initiatives up for discussion during the meeting. The Times has looked into just a few based on written presentations prepared for the meeting.

First up: TSPLOST.

A change to state law means Hall County became eligible to create a local sales tax of up to 1 percent to fund transportation projects in addition to existing special purpose local option sales taxes.

A five-year TSPLOST could be spent on resurfacing, rights of way, utility relocation, road, sidewalk and bike path construction, public transit and airports, drainage, patching and shoulder work, culvert repair and stormwater management. The tax revenue could also be used to pay down debt related to any of the other uses.

If commissioners support the idea, the county would be one of nine counties considering the tax. Athens has a popular vote set on a TSPLOST for November, and Bulloch County has a vote in May.

Hall County Planning Director Srikanth Yamala said Tuesday that the county has 12 to 16 months of work ahead of it if commissioners hope to get a referendum on the ballot. The earliest a vote could occur is 2018, if not 2019, he said.

Based on existing sales taxes, the county estimates a TSPLOST could bring in $183 million over five years for transportation projects.

The discussion in Augusta was a primer on the issue, Yamala said. The county would need to sign agreements with local municipalities and come up with a list of projects that would be funded.

“The county is not looking at any solid referendum date. There’s a lot of additional (work) that needs to happen between now and when the board wants to take that route,” Yamala said. “... The county and cities at some point need to come to the table and see if this is something that we even want to consider (doing).”

Staff of both the county and cities have met twice for “preliminary discussions” on the subject and are aiming to “work towards developing a draft project list,” according to Yamala’s presentation. Hall County and the city of Gainesville have also met with the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Next: Lula sewer.

Hall County and the city of Lula have been at odds for years over the county’s move to extend sewer lines up Ga. 365 to the boundaries of its city. Lula has energetically argued that the county is providing a service that overlaps with Lula’s existing sewer system.

Now, the county is preparing to make Lula an offer.

The service delivery strategy agreement signed by Hall County and all municipalities in the area — except Lula — included a requirement that the county and Lula “will enter into good faith negotiations to discuss the potential acquisition of the Lula sewer system. Said negotiations will commence within 90 days of the effective date” of the agreement.

Those 90 days are coming to an end, and Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said Tuesday that staff are drafting a letter to Lula to begin the negotiation process.

The presentation from Public Works Director Ken Rearden noted that Lula’s sewer system has 1,072 customers, operating revenue of $519,694 and expenses totaling $835,415.

Crumley said a letter was being drafted to be signed by Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Higgins to “set up a meeting with city of Lula officials to discuss” the purchase of Lula’s system.

Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said he had not yet been contacted about a purchase of the city’s sewer system. He said commenting on the issue would be “premature,” but said the city would “continue dialogue” after the letter has been received.

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