Administrator: Targeted growth needed

Published 10:39 am Saturday, October 30, 2010

COURTLAND—New growth and development should “be encouraged and directed” into the Courtland, Boykins, Branchville and Newsoms areas, Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson recently told a county watchdog group.

He told the Citizens for Responsible Government that the county has invested millions of dollars in water and sewer improvements in those communities to facilitate growth.

“The big investment has already been made. The payment is set,” Johnson said. “Additional people would only help soften the blow for the rest of us.”

While growth is to be targeted in certain areas, the vast majority of the county will remain for agricultural uses and forestland, Johnson said.

“Southampton County is an agricultural county, and we don’t apologize for that,” he said.

Citizens for Responsible Government reorganized in August to address county government spending. Last week, the group elected officers and held a question-and-answer session with Johnson.

Boykins Mayor Spier Edwards was elected president and posed 26 questions to Johnson.

Among the questions raised was why the county built the new Courtland Wastewater Treatment Plant with a capacity so much larger than current needs. Johnson said when discussions were taking place, several projects were either planned or under way.

“All said, it became apparent to us that we would exceed our available capacity most likely sometime in 2009,” he said. “So the question wasn’t whether or not to build a new facility; the question was how big to build a new facility.”

The expanded wastewater treatment system, which cost about $26.6 million, has the capacity to handle 1.25 million gallons of wastewater a day and can be expanded. Johnson said the county is “having conversations” with an industrial project whose sewer needs are 400,000 gallons per day.

“You don’t build a wastewater treatment plant for today,” Johnson said. “You build it for the future.”

At the Citizens for Responsible Government’s August meeting, the county’s debt raised concerns.

As of Aug. 1, Johnson said the county’s principal indebtedness stood at less than $72 million. Most of that debt is associated with water and sewer projects and school construction.

He said further borrowing is not advisable over the next decade unless the county experiences “substantial growth.”

After being elected president, Edwards told group members to “forget the past and put our emphasis on the future.”

“We must not expect miracles,” he said. “It will take time, but if we work together we can get it done.”