Water authority moves forward

WINNSBORO – Now that its mission has been defined, the Fairfield County Joint Water and Sewer System Commission is eyeing how to fund enhancements to water and sewer lines.

To that end, the commission plans to tap a financial advisor to help determine the best way to fund those enhancements.

At last week’s commission meeting, commission attorney C.D. Rhodes said retaining a financial advisor is a critical step in navigating the intricacies of funding complex infrastructure projects.

“What we need ultimately is a professional who can help us model all of this stuff and tell us which entity is going to give us the best rate,” Rhodes said. “Getting to that point is going to be essential in order to make that ‘ask.’”

Hiring a financial advisor will become particularly critical when it comes to borrowing funds via general obligation bonds or other means.

“The cost of this wastewater treatment plant and the connecting lines is going to be more than any single source of funds is going to be able to meet,” Rhodes said. “It’s going to be a matter of cobbling together a number of different sources of funds in order to make that happen.”

The discussion last week follows a spending measure that Fairfield County Council approved on November 11.

Securing plant property

Council members voted 6-1 for a resolution authorizing the expenditure of up to $300,000 on at least 50 acres of property to serve as a site for a wastewater plant. Councilman Mikel Trapp voted in opposition.

At a finance committee meeting also held November 11, county officials said the property being targeted is located off Syrup Mill Road, near Big Cedar Creek.

It’s at Cedar Creek where two smaller creeks converge about 7 miles south of the megasite property. Underground piping would funnel wastewater from the megasite to the discharge site, county officials said.

“It has to be an appropriate site because you have to have a discharge point, which means you have to have a long flowing body of water, a creek in this case,” said County Administrator Jason Taylor.

DHEC has told us there’s enough flow in the creek to handle two to four million gallons that we are going to be discharging into the creek,” added Ty Davenport, the county’s economic development director.

The Syrup Mill Road property is actually the most cost effective option. Most of the piping would run along I-77, where right of way already exists.

Taylor said the other option is property along the Broad River, which adds $30 million to $40 million in extra costs.

“We took this from a $75 to $90 million project to a $50 million project by just finding the location of this discharge point,” Davenport said.

Even with reduced costs, the joint water authority’s attorney said employing the services of a financial advisor would help the county seek additional funding sources. 

The Options

For example, one option would be for Fairfield County to pledge bond money to the commission. Or the commission could pool its collective resources to issue a bond.

“Whereas the county is limited in its ability to use its own generated funds to issue bonds, a joint system can use contributions from its members in lots of different ways,” Rhodes said. “There are lots of different permutations to this.”

In related business, the commission approved a resolution establishing the water authority’s procurement policy.

Having such a policy in place is a virtual prerequisite before the commission can recommend a financial advisor.

Rhodes told the commission that he’s identified two highly qualified agencies. A third company withdrew at the last moment.

Ideally, he said, the commission should review three candidates before one is selected, likely in January 2020.

In other business, the commission voted to extend an invitation to the Town of Ridgeway to join the joint water authority. The vote was unanimous.

At present, the commission includes representatives from Fairfield County and the Town of Winnsboro.

The commission was launched in March. Its mission is to drive more industry to the Fairfield County megasite off I-77.

The state provided $2 million in seed money for infrastructure for the site.