The Mowrystown wastewater treatment plant has been a source of financial woes for both Mowrystown and Highland County for more than a decade, and officials are looking for solutions.
Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley told The Times-Gazette that the village and the county have worked around finance problems before, but eventually, debts have to be paid.
“It’s one of those things where we’ll have to talk to the village people and the commissioners, and we’ll have to do something, because obviously, debts have to be paid. It’s really not an option,” he said.
According to information provided by the commissioners’ office, the county took out a loan of more than $2 million to pay for the treatment plant’s construction about 13 years ago, and since then, Mowrystown has been struggling to keep up with paying the county back.
Highland County Commissioner Jeff Duncan said Wednesday that the village has been behind on its payments in the past, although Mowrystown Fiscal Officer Jill Stolz told The Times-Gazette that the village has been doing its best to meet payments, and is current at the moment.
“One just went out this week… We are current,” Stolz said. “We’ve had issues, but when the bills aren’t being paid by the residents, that’s to be expected… We are a low-income community.”
The treatment plant was built in anticipation of Buford and other municipalities utilizing the plant’s services, but none did.
Now, Stolz said, Mowrystown uses only a portion of the plant’s full capacity, and the county is stuck with a treatment plant that’s larger than it needs to be.
“We only pay for the usage that we have on it, so I’m sure [the commissioners’] bills are more than what we pay,” Stolz said.
Fawley said at this point it “still costs the same to run the plant and do the testing, with fewer people paying into it.”
Currently, the outstanding balance of the loan sits at about $1 million, which the county finances twice a year in $59,000 increments. Mowrystown agreed to pay the county a little over $18,000 quarterly beginning in 2007 to pay back the debt, Stolz said.
Fawley said the village also pays a “user fee” for wastewater treatment services.
Duncan said there will be discussion in the future on possible solutions for the debt.
As reported by The Times-Gazette last year, Mowrystown was awarded $51,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding to upgrade the electrical system at the plant, which doesn’t have enough power to keep the pumps running correctly – and the pumps had already been repaired multiple times since the construction of the plant.
The repairs must be completed by the end of the year, and if the cost of the project exceeds $51,000, Mowrystown will have to scale the project back or pick up the difference.
Mowrystown Mayor Frank Terwilliger did not return a call for comment on Wednesday.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.