City, developers may now partner on sewers
By Evan Belanger
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Sewer service could become the proverbial carrot that Decatur officials use to attract residential developments.
On Monday, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution allowing the city to partner with developers to extend sewer to new development areas.
The measure is intended to foster quicker economic and residential growth. It follows leads by municipalities like Madison and Huntsville, which have used similar programs for years.
Decatur's version creates a new city fund dubbed the revolving fund. It will allow the City Council to pull money from its general fund to pay for all, or part, of the cost of extending sewer lines to new development areas at its discretion.
The account will receive money as residents in the development areas tie onto the system. That money can then be used for other sewer development projects.
Developers who use the program will be required to annex their developments into the city, thereby increasing Decatur's tax base.
"This could grow to be a significant source of sewer funding," said Mayor Don Kyle.
To date, a large percentage of the sewer-extension costs in and around Decatur have fallen on the developers — a practice local officials and residents say has stifled area growth.
Speaking during the City Council's work session Monday morning, local attorney Greg Reeves said he is part of a group of citizens who have rallied and promoted the sewer-development program for months. The group also participated in the city's planning process for the program, he said.
Reeves said the group known as A plus formed in part because its members wanted to lodge solutions with the council, not just complaints.
He said the group saw a need for a sewer-development program.
"Decatur Utilities is a well-run facility, but their job is to keep rates as low as possible for their customers," he said. "Since they're over sewer service, it seemed logical that they would be the one to put the pipe in the ground, but there is no incentive for them to borrow $1 million just to get new tax revenue for the city."
Most of the details associated with the new sewer-development program are still in formative stages. According to the resolution, requests for funding will be reviewed by a committee composed of a member each from the Decatur Utilities management staff, the City Planning Department, the City Building Department, the City Council and the City Planning Commission.
The mayor and the city's chief financial officer, Gail Busbey, are also expected to serve on the committee.
The committee will consider the requests, making recommendations to the City Council. All funding awards must be approved by the City Council.
Kyle said the committee members will be appointed by the City Council. No one knew Monday when those appointments will be made.
The first to take advantage of the new program will be Tuscaloosa-based developer Joe Brown Duckworth. His proposed 168-acre, 400-home development on Burleson Mountain helped prompt the city's action toward the new program, according to Kyle.
Duckworth's company will receive about $250,000 from the city, about half of the estimated cost of extending sewer service nearly a mile to his proposed development.
In a previous interview, Duckworth said if not for the city's contribution, he would have looked to another area to build his development.
He said the city's extra sewer expense runs up the costs of houses and lots.
Several attending Monday's meeting expressed support for the measure.
"Will this guarantee growth? No, probably not," Reeves said. "But I say it's not a coincidence that when you drive down the Beltline and start seeing green pastures, that's where the sewer service stops."
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