The Dade Water Board, from left: H.A. McKaig, Eddy Cantrell, Chairman Ted Rumley, Dr. Billy Pullen, Charles Breedlove, assistant authority manager Sherri Walker.
At its regular June meeting on Friday, the board of directors for the Dade Water Authority learned it had just been approved for a $450,000 loan to buy land for a proposed reservoir on Lookout Creek.
“I didn’t suspect anything else. because we have never been late and never missed a payment,” said Doug Anderton, manager of the authority.
The money is from GEFA, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, the state agency that helps water companies such as Dade’s pay for big infrastructure projects such as this one. Anderton said Dade Water had gotten six or seven such loans throughout his 40-plus-year tenure at the authority.
The purpose of this one is to guarantee the authority has money to close the sale on a tract of land on Sells Lane next to the creek, on which the county commission put down $50,000 earnest money in June 2017.
“Whatever we can’t get in grants, at least we’ve got this to fall back on,” said Ted Rumley, executive chairman of the Dade County Commission, who also chairs the water board.
The board had voted last month to apply for the loan. Now that the funds were approved, Rumley sought a resolution from the board granting himself and Doug Anderton authority to access the money.
Board members gave it, but only with the stipulation “after future approval of the board.”
“I don’t want this to be like pulling teeth,” said board member H.A. McKaig. “But borrowing half a million dollars, I’ve got to think about it.”
Member Eddie Cantrell pointed out that the public had questions about the proposed reservoir. He had some questions himself. “How is the process supposed to work between the county and the water authority?” he asked.
“The water authority will own it,” said Rumley. “The county will be there to back you up.”
What about the city of Trenton? asked others. In June, when the county commission approved without much discussion the $50,000 to option the land, the plan expressed was that Dade, Trenton and the water authority would own and manage the reservoir jointly. “From what I understand, they [the Trenton city commission] never have approved their part of the earnest money,” said McKaig. “I’m not sure they’ll get involved in the purchase.”
Rumley said Trenton Mayor Alex Case was on board. “Alex, he understands the importance of it for the future of water,” he said.
(Photo: The meadowland on Sells Lane Dade has optioned.)
Which didn’t mean the city commissioners would buy in, pointed out McKaig. “I’m not sure Alex can explain that,” he said.
“Robin [Rogers, the county attorney] said it would be better, at least at first, to keep it between the county and the water authority anyway,” said Rumley.
Another tenet of the reservoir project as introduced was that most of the cost would be paid for by grant money. “What is the outlook on grants?” asked McKaig at the June 15 meeting?”
“Grants are hard to come by,” said Anderton.
Rumley said he had a $50,000 grant lined up with a Chattanooga agency, and high hopes of a meeting with the Georgia governor scheduled for July 18. “He’s really big on reservoirs,” said Rumley.
“I don’t see much hope for grants otherwise,” said Anderton.
“[So] basically, at this point, we’re looking at borrowing half a million?” said McKaig.
Rumley said he hoped for several hundred thousand from the governor.
“Knowing our state, his idea is probably to get water stockpiled so he can send it to Atlanta,” opined McKaig.
Another question that arose was whether the authority could afford to borrow the money. “Are we in a lot of debt at the water authority?” asked Cantrell.
No, said Anderton. In 2021, payments on a bond are scheduled to reduce drastically, he said, by some $200,000 a year.
Board members looked at a financial report supplied by assistant authority manager Sherri Walker, with the figure $6.5 million mentioned in a bonds payable section. “Is that really what we owe?” said McKaig.
Ms. Walker said she would bring a document detailing debt structure to the next meeting. She also said she was working on consolidating the authority’s current debt into a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) loan.
“Are we going to have to raise rates because of our debt?” asked Cantrell.
No, said Anderton (right). “We should be able to cover the debt of the new construction with the reduction in the bond payment.”
And Rumley pointed out the authority had a million dollars approved in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) for capital projects.
After the meeting, The Planet asked Rumley and Anderton if it were true that they and the board now seemed to be talking not so much about whether they needed the GEFA money to buy the reservoir land—the question at last month’s meeting—as about how much of it they needed.
Yes, said Anderton. The questions are, he said: “How much grants are we going to get, what’ll happen with the governor—then, after that, it’s borrowed money.”
“Unless the governor comes across with a $500,00 grant,” said Rumley. Which isn’t, he added, entirely out of the question. “Oh, I feel we’ll get real close to it, if not all of it,” he said. “But you’ve always got to look at the worst scenario.”
Asked about H.A. McKaig’s speculation that Gov. Deal had its eye on Dade’s reservoir to supply Atlanta, Rumley said Atlanta’s thirst had nothing to do with the Dade reservoir. “This has got to do with 25 years from now Dade County being able to exist,” he said.
The Planet asked Rumley why he was so passionate about pushing the reservoir through, more adamant about the need for it even than authority manager Anderton.
“It’s because I live south of here and I know where our water comes from. It’s scary,” said Rumley.
Lookout Creek, Dade’s major water source, was not flowing as strongly as it used to be, he said. “There’s places that you never could walk across without getting wet in August,” said Rumley. “Now it’s a trickle over here at the bank.”
Things just seem to be getting drier, said Rumley. “My daddy wouldn’t believe me if I told him Allison Creek dries up in the summertime,” he said.
Rumley added that the city of Trenton needs water assurance even more than the county because of its sewer system. Without enough water to dilute it, the city water treatment plant would be prohibited from releasing treated wastewater back into the creek.
This reservoir, concluded Rumley, is something that future generations will be grateful for. “People will look back and they’ll appreciate the people that set it aside,” he said. “I feel fortunate that we have a place that’s centrally located that we can deal with.”
Most counties are not so lucky, he said, but must spend money to transport water long distances from its source to their water systems.
The water board meets at 8 a.m. the third Friday of the month in the Dade Administrative Building. The next meeting is Friday, July 20.