In an attempt to tap upper Dorchester Countyís economic development, the county has plans to buy St. Georgeís sewer system and get the town out of debt in one fell swoop.

The recommendation from county staff to council is to purchase the St. George sewer system for $1 million, and St. George would receive Dorchester Countyís water territory as well. The payment would be a 50-50 split between the county and the Upper Dorchester County Economic Development Fund ññ each paying $500,000.

Ward will make the offer to St. George this week. The upper county fund is money appropriated by the State General Assembly.

 ìIs the system worth $1 million, no, but is the discharge ability worth $1 million once itís upgraded, yes,î County Administrator Jason Ward told council at last weekís budget retreat.

St. Georgeís sewer plant has a current capacity of 800,000 gallons a day and discharges into the Polk Swamp, but is permitted to go to 1.6 million gallons per day. The extra capacity to handle the 1.6 million gallons can be brought on with a $5 to $7 million investment.

The $1 million offer will be enough to pay off St. Georgeís water and general fund debt, according to county figures.

County staff says the agreement would allow the county to phase in rates for in-town residential customers over seven years and budget $200,000 per year to repair the current clay pipes over a 10-year period.

The county has targeted the Interstates 95 and 26 as an untapped crosshairs of employment growth if sewer and water service ever became available.

The plan was hatched last year when the two councils met in a joint meeting to hammer out details. Since then, studies and negotiations have commenced to find the cost of the service areas.

The deal was originally was set in motion in 2006 when Dorchester County Water Authority and Dorchester County Public Works swapped areas of service leaving the county with 11,600 acres adjacent to the townís limits.

St. George and its approximate 1,200 customers canít support the estimated $5 to $7 million in upgrades needed to their sewer plant to support future economic development, county officials have said.

But, using its more than 18,000 customers, the countyís sewer system can. By doing so, any future expansion of the St. George plant will be paid for by the existing county sewer users.

Contact Ryan Castle at 873-9424 ext. 216 or rcastle@journalscene.com.