Yes, those pipes being laid along U.S. Highway 301 near Interstate 16 are Statesboro water and sewer mains. Nearby, a million-gallon water tower is rising. Expect to see more in 2014, but for the payoff in businesses and industries, think 2015 and beyond.
Bulloch County voters backed a vision of the I-16 interchange as a new center for commercial, industrial and residential growth with a double referendum in November 2011. The vote authorized both the creation of a Tax Allocation District, or TAD, and a six-year extension of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. A $9 million to $10 million portion of SPLOST revenues is allocated to the project.
For now, the county is paying the larger share of the projected $10 million extension of city utilities, using $6 million of the county's SPLOST. The city will pay the remainder. Unless a further arrangement is made, the city will fund an extension of natural gas on its own.
Talk to officials at the county, the city and the Development Authority of Bulloch County, and you hear an emphasis on careful planning rather than speed or speculation. In a recent interview, Development Authority CEO Benjy Thompson wouldn't predict completion dates or business types.
"A big part of our job is to manage expectations," Thompson said. "I want to make sure everybody knows that we're doing this the right way."
He did say that the plan is to extend utilities as quickly as can be done correctly to the southeastern quadrant, where the authority's industrial park, a little more than 200 acres, is located. A water main in the current phase of construction will extend through the park to the 1-million-gallon elevated composite water tank. A sewer main also is being laid, though a pump station in a further phase is required to make it work.
"Whatever it takes to get water, wastewater and natural gas out there in a reasonable and responsible way for the community is what we're hopeful for, and so far it seems like progress is going really well," Thompson said.
Besides the tank and pipelines through the industrial park, the $10 million build-out will stub water and sewer, including 12-inch water mains, to all four corners of the interchange. The other three corners remain private property. But all four quadrants are part of the 1,800-acre Tax Allocation District.
Because industries often get tax advantages as incentives, commercial development on private land in the TAD could supply money for future infrastructure development faster.
"We're kind of discounting the amount of money that's going to be created in the industrial park by about 50 percent due to incentives," Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch said. "Therefore, it's critically important that we have a balanced plan to try to generate commercial development."
He mentioned truck stops, motels and restaurants as projects with which private developers might approach private landowners.
However, industries would create more jobs. They could also spark interest in restaurants and other businesses that serve commuting employees, Couch said. So plans call for a mix.
"I think we've got a really good redevelopment plan," Couch said. "We've just got to be realistic about timing and we've got to be able to possibly sustain three to five years before we see any significant development down there. But if it comes early, hey, that's a great bonus."
How TAD works
The 2011 referendum generally empowered the county to establish Tax Allocation Districts. The I-16 interchange TAD, which took effect at the beginning of 2013, is the first. The redevelopment plan uses projections that 1,400 housing units will be built there in the next 30-40 years, in addition to millions of square feet of industrial and commercial space.
A TAD does not increase tax rates. What it does do is dedicate any increase in tax revenue resulting from higher property values — whether from new construction or land being sold at higher prices — to infrastructure improvements within the district.
The TAD has a maximum life of 30 years, but can be concluded sooner when all of the needed infrastructure — including roads as well as utilities — is built. At that point, all revenue from the district would revert to the county's general fund.
Right now, the TAD is producing little, if any, revenue. But with development, tax revenue is projected to top $1 million per year. Meanwhile, the six-year extension of SPLOST, which took effect just this fall, is supplying what Couch calls "seed money" for the water, sewer and more.
A $9 million bond sale authorized in the referendum supplied immediate cash. The water and sewer project will leave the county at least $3 million. The county may put some of it to work right away on industrial park site work and preliminary engineering for roads, Couch said.
The city awarded contacts for the first phase of the water and sewer extension in July. CB&I is building the water tank on a $2.09 million contract. Complete Sitework Services won a $2.25 million contract for the initial water and sewer extension, but according to Van Collins, assistant director of the city's Water and Wastewater Department, Complete Sitework subcontracted the pipeline construction to Tyson Utilities.
That phase of pipe installation is nearly 50 percent complete, Collins said. He estimated the storage tank would take another eight to nine months.
However, that's only Phase 1. Collins projected the city should be able to put Phase 2, which includes the pumping station for the sewer system, out for bids in January. Phase 3, including water and sewer stubs to the northwest and southwest quadrants, could follow in February or March.
"So most likely in about 18 months, we should have all the infrastructure in and stubbed out to all four quadrants at that interchange," Collins said. "We're hoping it will take place within 18 months and we'll be able to serve any development that goes out there."