County applies for sewer expansion grant

Officials serving the county and Manchester City have renewed discussion of a planned sewer extension into northern Coffee County that would allow for commercial development around I-24 Exit 105 and serve the students and staff at North Coffee Elementary School.

The sewer expansion project is looking to service the North Coffee area, which is in rural Coffee County. The idea is to expand the City of Manchester’s sewer line into the area. After offering to pay the county back for the project, Manchester requested the county allow the city to require annexation if a property wants to tie onto the new line. The sewer committee met Monday, Feb. 18 to discuss this.

To annex into the city, the property owner must request it. The city cannot force annexation on a property. If the request is approved, the lot would be absorbed into the city and would receive city services – sewer, water and trash pickup – as well as pay city taxes.

 “Let’s not get away from the fundamental element here, this is a city service,” French said. “This is not a county service. You are going to finance an element of the service, part of the infrastructure. The cost for sewer, the element you’re financing is a miniscule cost of what the cost of sewer actually is. This is peanuts compared to what it actually costs to service those homes.”

Messick added the costs include maintenance and depreciation. If the city is putting money into the line, aldermen want to ensure there is a way to make money back to maintain it through annexation.

“We’re going to ask that anybody that is outside of the UGB that requests to be annexed be given permission to do so without any kind of pushback from the county, whether the UGB is extended or not to this sewer line,” French requested. “Again, I think that’s reasonable.

“I want to be as clear as I can possibly be,” he continued. “We are in no way whatsoever talking about annexing any current properties, proposing any annexation, no referendum of annexation, nothing. The only annexation we’re talking about in this entire project, from start to finish, are property owners who request to be annexed. That is it. If they do not request to be annexed, they are not going to be asked to be annexed. We just want the property owners that request that have the opportunity to do so.”

Those who are on septic can remain on septic. If they want to hook onto the sewer line, they will have to request to be annexed into the city.

Kraft was still against the proposal and said, if the county agrees to this, the city will be forcing people to be annexed.

“I’m just saying, once again, we’re back to square one,” Kraft said. “You’re holding people kind of hostage that you can connect to it. The county paid for it, but we’re going to annex you. I mean, come on!”

Manchester Water and Sewer Department Director Bryan Pennington reminded Kraft the city offered to pay the county back for the project, however Kraft was not convinced.

“But that’s the thing; the county has the funding to pay for it,” Kraft said. “That’s what I am totally missing here. The county has enough money to pay for it and we put it in and you guys want to annex the people that connect to what we pay for.”

Bellamy stepped in and explained during city water commission meetings, the city goes over annexation requests and not all of them are viable. On Woodbury Highway, the county paid to expand the sewer line for the schools. Any home that wants to tie onto it has to request to be annexed into the city – the same deal as what French proposed for exit 105.

 

City versus county

 

City and county representatives admitted they wanted the same thing – to be able to ready the area for potential growth and profit.

However, city aldermen and county commissioners couldn’t agree on how to get there. Kraft is completely against the idea of annexation and called it a “killer” based on what she and her constituents in District 12 want.

“They want to connect to it, but they don’t want to be a part of the city. Hundreds have called and emailed me,” Kraft said. “They don’t want to be part of the city, that is the number one thing. I’m sorry, I have to fight for my constituents.”

Kraft later added her constituents do want sewer, but only sewer.

“They don’t want trash, they don’t want to go to city schools, they don’t want any (city) services,” Kraft said.

French and Messick both responded unanimously with, “Then they want city services.”

Kraft pushed back and told city officials the rural commercial properties are paying for the sewer line and, because of this, Manchester should not profit from the project.

“Didn’t we just sit here and agree that we are willing to pay it back with sales tax? Did I miss that?” Messick asked.

“We’re offering you a deal that won’t cost you a penny and will make you a whole bunch of money and I don’t see a problem in that,” Messick said.

French agreed with Messick and reminded Kraft that the city is offering to pay the county back in full.

“All we’re asking for is people who want to be hooked onto it is they help pay for it,” he said.

Cunningham cut in and explained the county wants the area for the same reason Manchester does – commercial property. She pointed out both sides are fighting for the same thing, but are on different sides of it. She offered an alternative idea: charge people to hook up onto the line and not offer annexation.

French didn’t buy into the idea.

“We’re thinking about a 50-year plan here and the practicality is, that’s where the city is going to grow. I don’t understand why the county feels like you’ve got to handcuff the opportunity for the city to grow in a legitimate and practical way, the way cities grow, by offering a services to new areas,” he said.

Kraft disagreed.

“I’m not trying to be mean, but you’re kind of handcuffing us to make you grow, to have people move on and to have our commercial hook on with you. It kind of goes both ways, like Margaret said, we’re fighting for the same reason,” Kraft said.

Everyone agreed that if a sewer line doesn’t go out there, both entities lose the possibility of commercial development.

“We can’t run a $2 million sewer line to someone who requests it out at 105,” French said. “We’re just not allowed to do that. Legally, you just can’t do that. The developer would have to do it.

“I look at this as a no-brainer and I don’t mean that as offensive to anybody,” he continued. “At the end of the day, the county makes a ton of money on development, the project gets paid for by the city and the only thing we’re asking is you allow the city to be a municipality and you be a county government. You’re not a municipality. To ask us to run a sewer line to create competition against our own tax base is mind-boggling.”

Kraft, again, disagreed.

“Ryan, let’s be real,” she said. “If two restaurants and two hotels is competition for Manchester, you all have problems. Let’s be real, I’m not trying to be mean, but let’s be realistic. If that is so much of a competition than you have some problems that you need to look at internally.”

French was not pleased.

“This is insane,” he said.

Before the discussion could escalate, Pennington pointed out offering properties a chance to tie onto a sewer line, whether they choose to or not, will make the land more marketable for the future.

A resolution was eventually reached between the city and county and both agreed to take a written proposal for their overseeing government bodies to discuss.

News Editor

Casey recently joined the Manchester Times team in March 2018. Coming off a 17-month reporter stint in Port Chester, NY, she is looking forward to slowing down and integrating herself into the community. She currently resides in Manchester.

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