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County still unsure about Flying J infrastructure

Commissioners indicate support, but not settled on plan

            The Bulloch County commissioners are feeling warm but not quite fuzzy about a proposal that would extend water and sewer infrastructure to a proposed Flying J truck stop development at the intersection of 301 South and Interstate 16.

            Under examination was the idea, floated by Statesboro City Manager George Wood, to enter into an agreement between the city, county, board of education and the Flying J. The agreement would divert special use tax funds to pay the annual debt service for a Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA) loan that would ultimately pay for the infrastructure project.

            In a lengthy discussion session Friday afternoon, commissioners concluded they favor the idea, in principle, and are prepared to move forward, but exactly how the county will pay its share of the debt service has yet to be determined.

            County Manager Tom Couch, with the general consent of the commissioners present, said their main concern should be the effect on county citizens and taxpayers.

            “Regardless of which direction we choose,” Couch said, “the primary goal is to make the decision that will not create an additional burden on the property owners in any way.”

            Commissioners discussed a number of different funding options for their share of the proposed project - about $200,000 per year for 20 years. One included diverting the additional Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds that would result from the increased sales generated by the truck stop. Flying J representatives estimate that additional revenue from the one cent sales tax would be nearly $500,000.

            Another option would use the rent from the Bulloch Center for Agriculture, since the original loan used to build the center was paid off.

            Yet another possibility would take money accrued for the Development Authority of Bulloch County, put it in escrow and use it to pay the debt service. The money, which was generated by SPLOST, totals around $2.8 million.

            Couch added that the county would seek additional sources of money to defray the total costs - such as a Georgia One Grant or a Community Development Block Grant from the federal government. The CDBG is one of the longest running federal programs sponsored by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. It funds community development activities such as affordable housing, anti-poverty programs and infrastructure development.      

            The commissioners saw pros and cons in committing to participate financially in the project.

            The potential increase in development on all corners of 301 and I-16 was one positive. This would boost tax revenues for the county, city and board of education.

            Also, the new infrastructure would likely help speed up the development along 301 between the Gateway Industrial Park and the interstate.

            One con discussed is the potential that the SPLOST revenues would not be as large as anticipated due to the fact that the Flying J would simply transfer existing taxable sales from other similar businesses to themselves.

            Also, as Chairman Garrett Nevil pointed out, regardless of the added commercial benefit to 301, there is an area from Lotts Creek to Vera Lane that’s low-lying swampy land  - and is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

            “Unless someone has a mountain they can dig up and bring down here,” Nevil said.

            Commissioner Roy Thompson seemed to support the infrastructure plan since no new industry has moved into Bulloch county in the last 10 years.

            “We need the new industry and jobs here in Bulloch County,” Thompson said.

            Commissioner Robert Rushing summed up the feeling of the commission at the end of the discussion.

            “We need to find a way to get things done instead of finding reasons not to get things done.” Rushing said.

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