A notably sparse turnout marked Columbia County's third and final public meeting to hear opinions on which capital improvement projects should be included in a proposed $40 million general obligation bond.
County Administrator Steve Szablewski said it appeared more county officials were on hand to answer questions than residents in attendance at the Evans Government Center auditorium Thursday night.
"School is out, and a lot of people are on vacation," he said of the attendance of fewer than 20 people.
Szablewski explained to the visitors that the $40 million bond is necessary because there are serious infrastructure needs in the county and special purpose local option sales tax revenues are not sufficient to fund all the projects soon enough.
He said the county will save millions of dollars in the long run if it tackles a slate of transportation, water, sewer and recreation facility projects now by borrowing the money.
County officials identified $100 million worth of needed projects but pared the bond amount to $40 million to be paid off during 12 years through a proposed 1.1-mill property tax increase.
Such an increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $40 more a year in property tax, Szablewski said.
County leaders hope to present the proposal to voters in a referendum in November.
Though the crowd was sparse, the audience did quiz Szablewski and other officials, including County Commissioners Tommy Mercer and Steve Brown, on how the money would help the rural parts of the county and whether impact fees could be enacted to pay for new development and avoid a millage increase.
One resident who said he lives near Harlem told officials he and his neighbors need water and sewer lines. Szablewski responded, saying the issue of tying into water and sewer lines might be better handled by the city of Harlem and that the bond funds should be dispensed to affect the most people for the least cost.
Other residents pressed officials about the feasibility of imposing impact fees.
Though the commission is still considering the fees, which would be levied on new developments and can only be spent on development for new or emerging infrastructure needs, the fees could not be used to fund remedies for existing capital improvement needs, Szablewski said.
Implementation of the fees also could limit the county's ability to impose exactions, he said. Exactions, he said, provide the county more flexibility to charge developers for specific infrastructure improvements as part of the development.
Brown said he supports impact fees, which could be used in areas of new growth, freeing up bond or general fund money for existing problems.
As in the two previous meetings, county officials asked residents to complete a survey outlining where they would like to see bond money spent. Szablewski said the commission will formulate the bond proposal in the coming weeks and could act on the matter as soon as its June 20 meeting.
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