A presentation to the Thomaston-Upson Development Authority by City Manager Russell Thompson sparked comments regarding the city’s commitment to industrial growth in the county, according to Commission Chairman Norman Allen.
Allen, who sits on the IDA board, told commissioners at the Jan. 24 meeting that IDA members requested he be “more of a conduit” between the development authority and county commission. The IDA held its first meeting of 2023 the previous day.
“[IDA Executive Director Kyle Fletcher} asked the city for a cost estimate to purchase more wastewater capacity [for the industrial park] and the city manager presented a couple of options,” Allen said. “I may be wrong, but it was a significant bump [in cost].”
After a lengthy - at times, contentious - negotiation, the city and county previously agreed to a wastewater contract in which the IDA purchases capacity for the park. Allen said Thompson’s presented options ranged from $500,000 to $1.25 million for less than 100,000 additional gallons per day.
“There was a comment made during the meeting that it’s clear the city is not really interested in industrial development outside the city boundaries,” Allen told commissioners.
“We’ve heard, ‘If it comes, we will build it,’ meaning if a project of substance comes [to Upson County, the city will find a way to accommodate it],” Allen continued. “But how long does it take to build a treatment facility? Years?”
Thompson said this week that the city is interested in all industrial development, regardless of location.
“The city is very much concerned with industrial development, whether it be within the corporate limits of the city or out in the county… Contrary to the chairman’s comments, the county has been insistent on providing [no] recurring funding for the IDA for the 2023 budget cycle,” Thompson said. “We have a budget meeting with the county in February, so I guess we will see.”
He added that cost for sewage capacity is “not arbitrary,” saying the city employed a consultant to evaluate all factors and establish an objective scale.
“The cost for sewer capacity as presented to the IDA was representative of capital improvements needed for system constraints that would be caused by added discharge (pipes are only so big and pumps can only pump so much before they have to be upsized),” Thompson explained. “The figures were calculated by the city’s consultant and included current assets, capital needs, and available permitted capacity.”
Regardless of speculation, a capacity increase would require approval by Thomaston City Council.
Allen noted that neither the county nor city have funded the IDA for 2023.
“Traditional [wait and see] methods are outdated. We expect the IDA to present [county commissioners] with goals and objectives. Tell us what you’re going to do with taxpayers’ money,” Allen said. “If we’re all in, we’ll appropriate money and fund it.”
He emphasized the need for pad-ready site development of the industrial park, creating a “speed to build” opportunity for industries considering relocation to Upson.
“Four years ago, it was going to be $4.6 million [to develop pad-ready sites]. Then the wastewater discussion stopped everything,” Allen recalled. “It’s time to take our foot off the brake and decide what is the right thing to do, as far as pad ready. We must have something to sell.
“Not everybody is a Lester Ranew, that’s going to come in and buy a hay field and have the intestinal fortitude and drive to turn it into a 150,000-square-foot building that’s up and running,” he concluded.
Allen added that the IDA plans to schedule another hotel feasibility study to rekindle interest for development in the area. More than three years has passed since the last study, and potential construction of a Holiday Inn Express at Northside has not materialized.
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