$100 million pledge for Albany sewer system excites city officials

0 million pledge for Albany sewer system excites city officials

December 28—ALBANY — What a difference $100 million makes. With news that the city of Albany has been authorized enough funding to complete the first phase of its wastewater system renovation, city officials are breathing a little easier.

While the authorization, included in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last week, does not mean an immediate payment, it does provide a path to funding the gap needed for the $135 million project.

This is an “authorization as opposed to an appropriation, which means the city will not receive a lump sum, but rather over a number of years through the annual appropriations process,” Albany Mayor Bo Dorough was quoted as saying. an email sent by the city’s DC lobby. consultant.

To ensure the promise is fulfilled, the city will need to work with state members of Congress to hold them to task to actually approve the funding, the mayor said.

Still, it’s good news for the city, which is facing a June 2025 deadline to achieve 85% separation of wastewater from stormwater into the combined sewer system. This project is Phase I of a three-phase sewer system modernization project.

“Congressman (Sanford) Bishop was in town a couple of years ago for one of the COVID (news) conferences,” Dorough said of the federal funding. “He told us it’s happening, it’s just going to take time.”

With about $109 million pledged to the project, city leaders can now think about the final two phases of the project and how to pay for them.

“I mean, we’ve been so focused on securing what we originally estimated at $105 million, but now it’s $135 million,” Dorough said. “The $105 million (estimate) was before COVID. Materials and construction costs are up 25%. We’ve been so focused on completing the first phase.”

The total cost for the three phases to update the wastewater system is $350 million.

The city’s need for funds has been a factor in negotiations with Dougherty County over splitting a penny sales tax. The deadline for the two governments to reach an agreement is Friday. If the two sides fail to make a deal, $117 million in local option sales tax collections over 10 years will be forfeited.

Asked if news of the federal funding would make a difference in the city’s willingness to reach a deal, the mayor replied, “Absolutely.”

The county has dug into insisting on the same split that has existed for decades, with 60% of collections going to the city and 40% to the county. The county commission voted earlier this month to reject the city’s latest offer to keep the split at 60-40 for five years and then increase the city’s share by 1% each year for the remaining five years.

The City Commission has scheduled a special called meeting for Thursday and one proposal will be to accept the county’s proposal.

“It’s the last day we have to make a deal,” said Ward VI Commissioner Demetrius Young. “We felt like we needed to get together and talk one last time.”

While Young said he thinks the city has the best case, based on population and providing the “lion’s share” of services to residents, the county’s bid, or lack thereof, is apparently the only option with the transition times.

“I don’t want to say how the vote will go,” he said. “At the end of the day, though, it’s a political decision. Do we have a problem with the government providing services? No. It’s just that political bodies have a hard time agreeing.”

In addition to providing a financial fix for the funding issue of the first phase of sewer system repairs, the federal authorization also appears to ease pressure on city residents, according to Albany City Manager Steven Carter.

The only way the city could have financed the project locally was through a combination of tax and/or utility rate increases, and through borrowing and bonds, both of which would have to be paid for by residents, he said.

“It’s very encouraging,” Carter said of the federal budget authorization. “Even though I don’t have a check in my hand today, just having this promise to get it takes the pressure off funding the sewer (renovations).

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