Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft laid out a plan Monday to borrow up to $7 million for construction of a new substation to meet future demand for electrical power.
The new substation and a resolution involving the Vidalia Port were the only two items on the agenda for the special meeting.
But because there was not a quorum, no action was taken.
Aldermen Tron McCoy and Jon Betts were in attendance. Craft said Alderman Robert Gardner was on a vacation.
He said aldermen Sabrina Dore and Tommy Probst had been “fully informed” about the meeting but chose not to come.
“Shame on them,” Craft said. “It’s disappointing at best.”
In fact, Craft said Tuesday he felt their failure to attend the meeting was “horrible representation” and he would look into how that could be addressed.
Even though there was no quorum, Craft opened the meeting and then waited a few minutes to see if a third alderman would appear before outlining the plan.
Representatives of local banks, members of the Vidalia Port Commission and other officials were on hand for the special meeting.
Port Director Wiley Gilfoil, Concordia Economic Development Director Heather Malone and Town Manager Bill Murray were among the officials who commented on the substation proposal.
Destiney Robb and Ray Ainsworth asked questions during the meeting. Each posed several detailed questions over an extended period.
Things got heated at one point when Craft pointed out that Robb had made a Facebook post claiming he was “unethical.” He wondered whether all in Vidalia wanted to see the town grow.
Robb asked him to “calm down,” said he was too defensive and said she expected to be treated with more respect. She said she was for small environmentally friendly businesses and opposed to tax breaks.
During the discussion, Craft said, “You don’t have good facts.”
Craft said that with two new industrial clients (Vidalia Mills and Syrah) as well new businesses and new home construction underway that the town’s power supply would tap out without construction of a new substation. BASF is reportedly looking at expansion as well.
Jeremy McElwee with the town’s utility department said the failure of a transformer in 2011 put the town at considerable risk. Craft said that if that happened today the town would have to choose between who would get electricity and who would not.
To get a new transformer and substation, he said the town must put the wheels in motion.
“You’ve got to build the transformer and that takes two years,” he said. “When these companies get ramped up we will be bursting at the seam and we must move forward.”
He said Vidalia Mills and Syrah are only in their first phases of development and that with their increasing needs that other companies would have to be turned away without a new substation.
Betts said that Syrah has paid significant sales tax dollars to the parish during the past months. Craft said Vidalia Mills would do the same.
“It’s crucial that we start right now,” he said. “And I want to stress that we will be able to construct this and are not going to use hydro funds.”
He said the town would go before the State Bond Commission for approval from local banks for a line of credit to begin work.
“We met with the banks and they are on board,” he said. “We won’t have to go through USDA. Our hometown people want to help us and see the importance.”
He said that the town has been approved $10 million in capital outlay funds ($5 million in Priority 2 and $5 million in Priority 5).
Even if that money is not forthcoming, he said the town could repay a loan through its normal operations.
Craft said the town is on solid financial ground and will be benefiting from a significant increase in hydroelectric royalties in the years to come.
He added that the town would be mailing out $800,000 in hydro rebates to utility customers within the next few weeks.
Malone said Tuesday that new industries, the new hotel, new residential developments and new commercial buildings receiving electricity from the town have placed the existing substation at full capacity.
“The town no longer has redundancy as it has in the past if a transformer at the substation goes down,” she said. Therefore, “there is a critical need for the town to add capacity” though a new substation “to allow for any new growth and for back up power in case equipment fails as it did in 2011.”
The mayor is seeking permission from aldermen “to engage bond counsel to put a financing package together for consideration at the Bond Commission. Once the package is pulled together the aldermen will be required to pass a resolution agreeing to go before the commission.”
She said the meeting Monday was to introduce the issue and permission to begin work on the financing.
Concerning the other agenda item, the board will be asked to approve a resolution entering into an amended intergovernmental agreement and transfer of property from the town to the Vidalia Port Commission.
Malone explained that the “property was transferred to the port prematurely. The revision will allow the port property to be transferred back to the town from the port commission and when the state project funds are expended will allow the town to transfer the property to the port commission if all parties agree to do so.”
Concerning additional port property for the next phase of the port, Malone said that would be based on updated appraisal and negotiation of the acreage to be purchased.
She said the cost should not exceed $3 million and that there are state funds allocated for the transaction.
“However, the town will need to have funds available to close on the property and will receive reimbursement from the state,” she said. “This piece would be a bridge type loan to cover the town until the state reimbursed the funds for their portion of the costs.”
She said all state projects are 75 percent state funded.