The county’s new rural water system is on track and could go online as early as September, Liberty County commissioners learned Thursday.
The system will serve residents in the Holmestown-Screven Fork area and those who live along Highway 84 from Midway to Highway 196.
P.C. Simonton engineer Matthew Barrow told commissioners the system’s water tower is being erected behind Joseph Miller Park and is “75 percent” complete. He said the tank portion of the tower should be completed in about two weeks.
Barrow added that the distribution portion of the project is 23 percent complete, and those wetter areas where lines have been put in will be graded once the ground dries out. The engineer said once the tower is complete, well houses will start going up in mid-April.
Barrow said it will take three to four months to connect lines to every household.
County Administrator Joey Brown said since the project is moving briskly, the next step is to work on the billing for water service. Brown said the county must pass an ordinance to set rates, and likely will have to acquire billing software.
Brown told commissioners in January that new subscribers to the system will pay a $250 fee. This payment will cover the cost of connecting to the system and a meter. That rate “is good until the construction period ends,” according to Brown. After that, the tap and meter fee will be based on what a contractor charges to extend lines to residents’ homes.
“The resident will have to pay the cost of connections to the home, which (would be made) by a certified contractor of their choice at their expense,” he said.
Brown explained the system will be operated as a utility fund, meaning fees must be based on actual costs, including indirect costs and capital replacements.
In November, the commission issued $1.04 million in bonds for the project. County Attorney Kelly Davis had said revenue from the water system would repay the bonds.
The county received $500,000 in Community Block Development Grants in 2012 for water and sewer improvements, in addition to a $3.2 million grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture and a $1 million low-interest loan. According to Brown, $250,000 in SPLOST funds also went toward the cost.
Officials pushed for the rural water system for nearly 10 years, following a University of Georgia study that found hazardous well conditions in the area. The UGA study identified contamination issues, such as wells being too close to septic tanks. A Coastal Incentive Grant program funded the study.
In other business at Thursday’s meeting:
• In a 5-to-1 vote, with District 6 Commissioner Eddie Walden opposed, commissioners approved locating a new animal control facility off Technology Drive at the old airport. County engineer Trent Long reviewed several possible locations, offering cost estimates to prepare each site. The old airport site will allow for a gravity sewer and connection to city water, Long said.
• Commissioners welcomed Chief Magistrate Melinda Anderson, Tax Commissioner Virgil Jones, Liberty County Finance Director Kim McGlothlin and Kathy Poole, Liberty County Solid Waste Authority administrative financial manager, to discuss the solid waste bill collections. The county is seeking to improve collections, particularly from residents who chronically fail to pay. Mobile home decals are billed separately from real property taxes. These decal fees are then collected by the tax commissioner’s office. When decal fees — and the corresponding solid waste fees — are not paid, the county code enforcement office sends out delinquent notices which are then followed by magistrate court citations. The magistrate court then hears the case and can issue an order to pay. But some residents cannot afford to pay the whole amount and are placed on payment plans, Anderson said. The officials disagreed where the fee collection process was weakest. Commission Chairman Donald Lovette suggested all the parties meet to hammer out a solution.
• The commission approved contracts to repave Meloney Drive and extend sidewalks on South Main Street and Highway 196.
• Liberty Regional Medical Center CEO Scott Kroell updated commissioners on the hospital’s operations and financial health. LRMC swallowed nearly $6.4 million in uncompensated care costs last year, Kroell said. In an effort to increase revenues, the hospital is focusing on providing services, like wound care, to chronically ill patients, he said. LRMC also will assist patients with chronic health issues, who are not insured, to get policies that best meet their needs through the government’s new healthcare exchanges, according to Kroell.