March 2007 - News Story:

ISG leadership shifts
Big Canoe Incorporation
study enters next phase

By Barbara Schneider
The Big Canoe Incorporation Study Group (ISG) announced a shift in leadership as its information gathering process enters a new phase. The ISG, a group of Big Canoe residents from Dawson and Pickens counties, is exploring the feasibility and benefits of incorporating an 8,500-acre area that includes Big Canoe.

“I will no longer be chairman of the ISG’s executive committee,” says Bill Saling. “The new leadership team will be composed of three committee heads, Harry Gilmer, Dick Scharf and Bob Wright, who will see us through the next phase, which will focus on the committee reports.”

The transition, Saling says, coincides with completion of the study group’s initial work, the financial feasibility study. At a January town meeting, Dr. John O’Looney, representing the Carl Vinson Institute of Government of the University of Georgia, presented results from a study commissioned by the ISG on “The Fiscal Viability of Incorporating Big Canoe.”

This study is one of the requirements mandated by the Georgia Legislature before incorporation will be considered. (The full study is available on the ISG website: www.isgstudygroup.com

Saling recently completed a four-year term as a Dawson County Commissioner where he gained first hand knowledge of tax allocation and taxes, such as the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) and Special Projects Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). “County commissioners negotiate with cities within the county’s boundaries on tax allocations.” During his time as a county commissioner Saling learned about alternative financing options and saw potential benefits for the residents of Big Canoe.”

No, Thank You

Does Saling have political ambitions? That’s one question he is asked repeatedly and his response is consistent and concise: No.  “I’ve completed my role in elected office and have no interest in serving in an elected office again,” he says.

 Despite his protests lingering questions about his intentions dog the ISG.  One resident claimed incorporation is an attempt by Saling to position himself as the mayor of this new city. Au contraire says the ISG in a prepared statement:

“Bill has publicly stated on numerous occasions that he has no interest and will never seek such a position. He agreed to lead the study group through the initial phase of the study effort and to get the Carl Vinson Institute on board quickly. Now that we are entering the second phase of the study work, Bill reverts to a working member of the committee.”

Water, Fire, and Dam concerns

How will the new leadership structure work? Harry Gilmer says the three committee chairmen will act as “conveners,” bringing new information to Big Canoe residents as specific subject matter study tasks are completed. The key committee heads are: Gilmer, ISO; Robert Wright, Municipal Water; and Dick Scharf, Lake Petit Dam.

“This was a good time to transition the leadership,” says Gilmer, “to focus on the next step which is our committee reports.” He points to his ISO committee as an example. “I see the process unfolding in three areas,” he says, “gathering information, translating that data into the concrete needs of the community and formulating financial requirements.

According to Gilmer, “The essential task of the Fire Protection Committee is to determine as best as possible what would be required in a potential new city in order to provide adequate fire protection and to achieve a minimal ISO [Insurance Services Organization] rating of five. This is to a large degree the same task that the POA Administration is working on so diligently.”

Because the territory of any new city would include Big Canoe as well as additional acreage, Gilmer anticipates different requirements inside and outside Big Canoe’s gates.

“Our committee will be consulting closely with the POA Administration on these matters but the committee’s first task is to gather as much information as possible regarding fire protection requirements and ISO standards."

Water, Water, Everywhere

image
Big Canoe Water Company is currently owned by the Developer and his daughters.

“My immediate focus is to raise awareness of water issues--not to justify incorporation,” says Robert Wright, chairman of ISG’s Municipal Water Committee.

“Our group seeks bring to the forefront facts concerning the relationship between the Big Canoe Utilities Company and the residents of Big Canoe.”

Chief among the facts Wright wants to bring to residents’ attention is that Big Canoe’s water company is a private utility and, as such, is not regulated. “That means the utility can charge any rate it wants and there’s nothing the residents can do about it unless the legislature changes the law,” he says. “My greatest concern is the unregulated status of the water utility, currently our only source of water in Big Canoe.

POA Has Major Role

 “Many residents don’t realize the POA is cosigned with Big Canoe Utilities Company on a $7.5 million bank loan,” he says. “If the company defaults on paying off the loan, the financial responsibility would be passed on to the POA.”

Wright points out that the Georgia Environmental Protection Department required Big Canoe Utilities Company to name the Big Canoe POA as its trustee on all permits issued to the utility. As the designated trustee of the utility company, the POA automatically inherits the utility if for any reason it is no longer able to operate and provide acceptable services to its customers. The POA will remain a trustee through the utility’s life.

In the past, Wright explains, “There was an effort by private residents to buy the water company from its sole owners, Bill Byrne and his daughters.

image
The water plant next to the Play Field.

These facts, Wright says, won’t change with incorporation; however, if Big Canoe were to incorporate, the new city would have access to funds and grants not available to a private community.  “There are several federal state grant and loan programs available to municipalities that can be used to fund their public water and wastewater projects.” Wright offers these examples:

  • The USDA Rural Development Agency has a Water and Waste Disposal Loan program where they will provide loans to public entities and non profit corporations serving less than 10,000 people. USDA also offers grants up to 75 % of eligible project costs. They will also guarantee loans made by private banks and other eligible lenders.
  • There are two funding sources available from the State of Georgia. One of them is the State Revolving Fund which depends on USEPA state allotments. These funds consist of both grants and loans. The current SRF loan rate is only 3.0 %. The Georgia State Fund is also another funding source for public water and sewer projects. This program is not dependent on federal fund contributions and it is easier and quicker to obtain funding from this source. However, the current state lending rate is 4.4 %.

A Georgia state official has stated that Georgia has good success getting their Federal funding allocation and that so far they have been able to fund every applicant requesting funds from either program.


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