Effingham County commissioners and Rincon council members may be inching closer toward an agreement on water and sewer lines.
Representatives from both bodies agreed to continue to talk about proposed water-sewer service delivery areas, particularly the thorny Grandview issue, at a meeting Tuesday night. The meeting, hosted by Rincon, involved the county and all three municipal governments to attempt to come to an agreement on a new service delivery map. The cities and county have until June 30 to iron out any differences.
Not doing so, local officials were warned, could result in the loss of qualified local government status — and that means a loss of state grants and loans.
“We all have a vested interest in getting something accomplished,” said Rincon Mayor Ken Lee. “We are working against some deadlines, and the Department of Community Affairs keeps reminding us of that.”
The Grandview, once zoned for residential development with more than 1,000 homes, has been rezoned for industrial. The tracts are not far from Rincon’s wastewater treatment plant but the property owners and the city could not come to terms on a service delivery deal.
“We certainly need jobs and investment in this county,” said Greg Howze, the former county commission chairman who is one of the Grandview investors. “But we’ve got different plans now. We want to be served. We have wanted to be served.”
But Grandview representatives balked at what they said was Rincon’s insistence the property be annexed into the city. Now that the tract is zoned industrial, site selectors and industrial property consultants have told Grandview owners one of their best bets to attract investment in their property is not to be annexed into the city limits.
“If you’re planning on serving us, don’t annex us,” said Mickey Kicklighter. “The last time we talked, you refused to serve us if we didn’t get annexed in.”
Kicklighter said the property owners originally had agreed to annexation if they could have gotten zoning approval.
“Ya’ll had passed a (planned development) zoning we didn’t qualify for,” he said to Rincon council members. “We wanted ya’ll to pass a PD we did qualify for.”
Howze said there is a master plan for the property, but landowners don’t know how many companies they eventually will land.
“Since the change in zoning, at least 12 site selectors have looked at the property, even in this economy,” Kicklighter said. “We’ve been told that this is the most attractive site on the East Coast. Not just in Georgia, but the East Coast.”
The county has put in more than $8 million of water and sewer lines and other infrastructure for service to parcels south of Rincon. Running those to Grandview — and Grandview owners stated they needed a 16-inch water line for their intended uses — would cost anywhere from $5 million to $9 million.
Rincon Council member Paul Wendelken said he understood Grandview’s position but also said the city has been burned in the past without such annexation agreements.
“If we don’t have the pen on the paper just right, we suffer for it,” he said.
He added that, as a citizen of the county, he couldn’t understand spending that much money when Rincon’s water and sewer lines were closer.
“This comes down to basic business — who can do it for less and who can make it work,” he said.
Wendelken worried that the tract’s proximity to the Rincon’s wastewater treatment plant would mean the city would serve the sewage needs but the county would provide water to the tract.
“You can’t make any money off wastewater,” he said.
But the county also has letters of credit with Grandview, and commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler said those letters bind the county to Grandview and Grandview to the county.
Rincon’s current water and sewer service area is about 15 square miles, and the county’s proposal would expand that to nearly 33 square miles. But much of that area, council member Ken Baxley said, was Georgia-Pacific land and not usable.
“One of our concerns (is) we feel Rincon is being boxed in,” he said of the county’s proposal. “There’s no way for Rincon to expand.”
County and Rincon representatives also discussed the Heritage tract briefly. The tract, northwest of the city limits, lies closer to the county’s wastewater treatment plant than it does to Rincon’s sewage treatment plant. But like Grandview, it is just beyond the service area that forms a half-mile deep ring around the city limits.
Springfield Mayor Barton Alderman and Guyton Mayor Michael Garvin said their service delivery areas were acceptable.
“There’s no complaints on our side,” Garvin said.
In order for the service delivery agreement to go forward to the DCA, three of the four governments must agree to it.
“We didn’t have a strong water-sewer agreement,” Baxley said. “We want to cover our costs. We want to cover the county’s costs, because we are all paying for that. And I don’t like being boxed in. Rincon keeps getting less and less (area). Springfield didn’t ask for it and got more. Guyton didn’t ask for it and got more.”
But those cities, Commissioner Verna Phillips pointed out, don’t ask for annexation to extend services. Lee said the city’s guidelines are that it may ask for annexation.
“We have to have cost recovery,” Rincon council member Levi Scott said.
The four governments agreed to continue to meet, with three representatives from each sitting down to hash out a solution.
“If there’s any way you could work together on your existing capacity, that would be of benefit to your citizens,” said Allen Burns, executive director of the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center. “There’s some workable ground in there.”