After many back and forth conversations with between city and county representatives, Coffee County decided to not pull out of the sewer expansion project. Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell confirmed on Monday, Feb. 4 that the discussion was still on the table.
The project was planned to extend the lines into the North Coffee Elementary School area before the school’s renovation was completed. However, discussion was halted on Tuesday, Jan. 29 following an email by county commissioner Ashley Kraft, who sits on the joint city/county sewer committee.
The email stated the county was no longer interested in the project. Kraft later clarified on Jan. 30 as to why.
“The sewer is no longer a top priority on the county side,” Kraft said in an email. “This is due to the school confirming that they are prepared to have septic or STEP. Also, with the school's timeline for the renovation funding and completion, just now negotiating the sewer project would not work.
“Since the County's Rural Infrastructure/Development funds would cover the sewer cost, we didn't feel the need to continue to pursue it, as it's no longer a need,” the email continued. “That wouldn't be fair to the rural citizens who have other issues with necessities.”
Such necessities, according to Kraft, include correcting water issues in the 105 area.
“I, personally, feel as if handling the water issue is a bigger need and would benefit the rural citizens and the school,” Kraft said. “We are willing to keep the door open and maintain conversation regarding sewer with the city. However, based on my opinion and the opinion of many constituents in the district I serve, we are not willing to accept any annexation due to sewer installation.”
Coffee County School District has been operating with two plans – a plan A that gave the sewer committee enough time to create a working partnership and accept a proposal and plan B was formed in case the county and city could not reach a timely agreement.
The second plan, which is to hook onto a septic system, will not require a new, wider sewer line.
Is the deal flushed?
City representatives were not convinced that was the end of it. The city representatives on the sewer board wanted it confirmed by the entire county commission before they stopped pursuing the matter.
“I thought we had things worked out last night – I thought we had an agreement with them that we were going to take each of our gov’t bodies,” said city alderman Mark Messick, who is on the sewer committee. “Then yesterday, we got this letter with Ashley Kraft... If we get shut down, I’d like to see the mayor’s side of it and not Ashley Kraft’s.
“If we’re gonna get shot down that’s okay, but I’d like to see from the whole commission that we’re not gonna do it. We’re still trying,” Messick said.
City alderman Ryan French, who chaired the sewer committee, agreed that the city wasn’t going to drop the project due to concerns from an email.
French explained the septic line would not come at an exorbitant cost to the school, but it doesn’t solve a future need for the 105 area. Therefore, he hopes to move forward with the project anyway.
“My plan from this point is to approach the school board and give them the scenario where we run the sewer line and hook it up as part of the renovation, so there is no inflated cost out there for them,” French said.
This method would take out any deadlines for the project without taking expansion off the table entirely. It would also take away any further financial burden from the school – the building would need to be hooked up to the line, but French would like to see that cost included in the new expansion plan.
“Cost on school’s end would just be hooking to the sewer,” French explained. “It just makes sense for us as a committee now to build that cost into the plan as the committee moves forward. I don’t think anything’s changed with this.
“As elected officials, we’ve got to be more responsible with how we conduct dialogue,” he added. “We need to talk to all parties involved before we make any blanket statements about how this is or isn’t.
“I don’t think anything changes, I don’t think it changes at all,” he concluded.
Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell confirmed that talks would still continue.