County considering tax allocation districts for dam repairs

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

There are more than 80 dams in Henry County regulated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Many of those are in need of repair yet cannot be addressed directly by county government because they are on private property.

County officials have been working on a way for these necessary repairs to be completed and funded in a way that satisfies any property owners who would be affected.

A public information meeting took place last week to discuss the feasibility of utilizing tax allocation districts for this purpose. It was the latest step in a process that began about three years ago, according to interim county DOT director Wade Stroud.

“Some of the citizens at Lake Dow got a consent order from the state’s Environmental Protection Division to improve their dam from Category 2 to Category 1 status,” said Stroud. “Any time you start talking about doing dam rehabilitation you are talking about a minimum of $1 million-plus for the project. The challenge for these privately-owned facilities be-comes how they can carry the cost burden; some have good homeowner associations, and some don’t have them at all.”

When residents reached out to the county to see what could be done, the TAD option was brought up. “This could be a way for us to partner with these communities to give them an outlet to help themselves,” said Stroud.

The Board of Commissioners authorized a consultant to entertain the feasibility of the process, and with the first phase completed county officials believe there is a good opportunity here.

“We are now looking at how to create such a district and what exactly it would look like - what the requirements are for the communities, and the goal for the county,” according to Stroud.

Dam categories are based on several factors but not necessarily size or structure. A dam labeled Category 1 has a greater potential threat of loss of life downstream, Stroud said. As such, they are typically built to handle a greater water flow from a higher rain event than a Category 2 structure.

By law a tax allocation district can only be implemented by a referendum of the residents and businesses in that proposed district.

“The great thing is that the county is not mandating this,” said Stroud. “It won’t be put on a community that doesn’t want it. We are giving them an outlet.”

About 40 people attended last Thursday’s public information meeting from a variety of locations around the county. Representatives from Lake Dow North, Lake Dow Estates and Swan Lake were among those, Stroud said.

“Everyone seems to be excited about this opportunity,” he added. “There are details to be walked through, but that’s the great thing about public information meetings. You can review those details, get feedback and try to incorporate the changes. It would have the fingerprints of the people it affects.”

Since the county cannot directly allocate tax dollars for such repairs, if a dam becomes a safety issue and no other option is available the state would step in. If repairs cannot be made, subsequent steps would include lowering the water or even draining the lake.

“The county, based on current regulations, does not have a role in that,” said Stroud. “It is strictly a state issue.”

Another public meeting will likely take place in late February or early March, probably in the north end of the county. There would be a 30-day comment period after that meeting to allow further feedback, and there would be an attempt to incorporate those comments into a new draft. The final ordinance would go to the Board of Commissioners for an ultimate decision.