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Couch visualizes 'new town'
County manager wants to develop area at I-16, 301 South
Couch.Thomas cam
Tom Couch

Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch envisions a "new town" forming around property recently purchased off Interstate 16 and U.S. 301 South, the proposed site of a second county industrial park.

Speaking to Bulloch County Commissioners Tuesday during a workshop, Couch gave a presentation of what will need to be done with the property if the county decides to move quickly on the project.

Couch said the 220-acre tract's prime location would hopefully lure new industry to the area because of its proximity to Savannah ports and easy access from the interstate. But the potential for growth in that area is exponential, and Couch foresees a residential community, restaurants, additional convenience stores and truck stops and possibly hotels.

"What we are effectively doing is building a new town and facilitating development," he told commissioners. "The question is, are we willing to assume some calculated financial risk so long as we have a solid plan to go by? And how fast are we willing to do it?"

The county has two choices - move ahead quickly to take advantage of possible funding sources and development, or "bank" on the property. None of the commissioners appeared interested in sitting on the project.

Couch estimated a cost of developing the site - between $6 and $8 million for water and sewer, $3 million for roads, and another $2 million for other improvements. He said the county will need a "coordinated finance plan and marketing plan" for the project's success.

Funding would come partially from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), but Couch said there would need to be ‘gap financing" to supplement that. He suggested the county secure the services of a consultant "to do the more finite planning that needs to be done."
Other funding would come from grants and possible loans from government sources, he said. He suggested handling the industrial park project in the same manner commissioners handled the construction of the county's water park, Splash in the Boro. The water park has paid for itself and continues to be profitable.

Couch also discussed the option to tie into the City of Statesboro's water system, or to construct a private water system that may be connected to that of the Town of Register, which is in need of improvements as well. Commissioners discussed possible USDA loans for both the county project and Register's improvements to their water system.

"The USDA would like to include water system upgrades to Register," Couch said.

He also mentioned the possibility of creating a Tax Allocation District (TAD) , where appreciation in property value would mean the increase in revenue goes to the project. A TAD or SPLOST option would require a referendum, he said.

Considering funding options and a fast-moving track, Couch said the project would extend through 2014, and if it is to be completed by then, "we have to move now. Even if we started tomorrow, it could take more than three years to get it done."

Also,allocating some of the land or future acquisitions for "potential residential development" would create an "elastic tax and utility customer base," he said.
Commission Chairman Garrett Nevil said when the Flying J Truck Stop was considering putting a store at the site, the potential for the business there meant approximately $380,000 in annual tax revenue "for just one truck stop."
With multiple businesses and industries, the site could prove very lucrative regarding revenues for the county, he said.

"It's more sales tax generated for future SPLOST," he said.

He approved of moving on the issue soon. "If you don't make it happen, it won't happen," he said. The property recently acquired by the county "has been sitting there 30 years with people waiting for something to happen. It's going to cost us more to do it later."

Commissioner Robert Rushing agreed. "Banking it is the last thing we need to do," he said.

Couch then recommended the commission bring in experts to discuss the project. Commissioner Carolyn Etheridge supported the idea. "I'd like to hear from some people (who had previous experience with this type of project)," she said.

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.


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