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BOC pushes forward on water; hears broadband option

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Residents of the Sand Creek Trail area came to a called meeting of the Jones County Board of Commissioners Aug. 25, asking for help getting county water due to failed wells.

Commissioner Sam Kitchens summarized the board efforts for three to four years to use SPLOST funds and a Public Facilities Authority.

“We went to the state to get approval of the PFA,” he said. “We have to nominate board members, get ratings from Moody’s and issue bonds.”

Kitchens said about a month prior he received a call that a resident on Sand Creek Trail was out of water.

“They depend on the water table, and we’ve had a lot of rain,” he said. “You’d think we’d have a lot of water, but residents have deepened wells 30-40 feet. It works for a while but then dries up again. More and more residents are having issues.”

Kitchens asked if emergency funding could be used to run water lines to the area while the larger project is underway.

County Attorney Ashley Brodie said she knows the issue is a major concern, but it doesn’t constitute an emergency.

“I know Commissioner Kitchens wants this addressed, and he’s working very hard for the citizens in this area,” she said. “However, the problem is, there are some other areas that have the exact same situation, having to have water brought in. An emergency would be if someone could only access their house by a bridge and a tornado takes out the bridge.

“You have an emergency because there’s no other way to access that home.”

Brodie added that an emergency as far as a special use of public money is very limited and very rare and would expose the county to legal liability.

“We can proceed with the current project with urgency – get our board established – so we can get bond funds lined up,” she said. “Then we can get contractors, bids, everything we need to do the project.”

Kitchens brought up the issue of timing as far as ordering materials because of supply chain challenges.

“It’ll probably take 12 weeks to get 12-inch pipe,” he said.

Kitchens asked County Engineer Tim Ingram about the current timeline and availability of funds.

“Since Jeffrey [Pehlke] has taken over the department, it has worked hard to build up a new construction account and savings account,” he said. “To do everything the way it’s supposed to be done, it’s going to run about $800,000. We have that cash on hand, but it’s all we have. If something else goes wrong, we’re back in the general fund to pay for it.”

Ingram said the department has not been able to save as much as it had hoped due to the cost of pipe.

“We priced out 12-inch pipe, and it’s $38 a foot,” he said. “Last year, it was $22 a foot. To be safe, not get us in a bind, we need to proceed with the PFA plans, get it in place. We’re about 100 days out from the bond deadline; 90 days to get before we have the money. We’re looking at Thanksgiving on having the bond issue closed.

“We had planned to be ready at the end of the year, but we’ll do what we can to push it up to Thanksgiving.

Brodie suggested setting a meeting for the PFA board to meet and asked Commissioner John Wood if he had a member to nominate. Wood said no one had taken him up on the offer, but he would keep working on it. Commissioners agreed to set the first board meeting at 5 p.m. on Sept. 20, prior to the BOC meeting.

Kitchens suggested going ahead to buy materials at around $155,000 and get reimbursed from the bond issue. Brodie said she would check with the bond attorney but suggested at least getting the bid out would help.

Kitchens made a motion to put the materials out for bid with funds to come from the savings account for the materials pending approval from the bond attorney. The motion passed 4-0 as Commissioner Daylon Martin was absent.

Kitchens asked if any citizens wanted to speak, and two did, again asking for any temporary relief.

Chairman Chris Weidner suggested using the nearby fire department to fill up tanks for the residents. Brodie said that would be fine so long as the residents were paying for the water.

Weidner urged Pehlke to find a way to meter the water for residents to purchase.

“I’m sure we can work something out with that source of water,” he said.

Broadband opportunity

Jason Rizner said a deadline of Aug. 31 to apply for state funds related to broadband internet had been extended, so the issue was not as urgent when the called meeting was set.

Three guests from Windstream joined the meeting virtually to explain the proposal.

Billy Bob Greene, Windstream’s Central Georgia director, said Jones County had 4,000 households that could benefit from applying for funds to expand fiber internet access.

“The total cost would be $14.9 million,” he said. “$9.1 million would come from state funds, and $5.8 million would be invested by Windstream.”

Greene admitted that many customers had slow internet currently but said building on the existing fiber network would benefit those customers.

“We have a superhighway all the way through the county,” he said. “We’re lacking some at the north end of the county, so we’d use our funds to build out a few locations in the north to expand.”

Greene emphasized Windstream was not asking Jones County for any money.

“We’re asking you to consider being the lead applicant to help us provide service to your citizens and our customers.”

Weidner asked if the service would provide fiber internet into each home or if it would use existing lines.

“No, new fiber would be built to each location,” Greene said. “We have the network built. We just have to build out to the customer’s house.”

Greene said each home would have access to 1 gigabit of speed, download and upload. Currently, most customers only have access to 25 megabits down and 3 up.

Rizner asked when Windstream would make a decision, and Greene said the sooner, the better. Commissioners did not take action but may at a future meeting.