With a $1.9 million offer on the table, the St. George Town Council is slated next week to decide whether it will unload the townís wastewater treatment plant and system.

The offer came in the form of a motion unanimously approved by the Dorchester County Council Tuesday following a lengthy joint executive session between the two bodies.

Both parties left the negotiations in potentially better positions than which they arrived. The deal would allow St. George to pay off its existing water and sewer debt while also giving the town several thousand acres of the county's water service area located to the east of Hwy. 15 and bounded on the north by Spring Road. The county would be able to bring sewer service to the I-95/I-26 corridor, an area that has long lacked the infrastructure necessary to attract industry.

The proposed $1.9 million tab would be split 50-50 between the county and the S.C. General Assembly-appropriated Upper Dorchester County Economic Development Fund.

ìBasically, itís a partnership and it's a good deal for both [the county and St. George],î said County Council Chairman Larry Hargett.

County Councilman Chris Murphy called the deal a ìwin-win.î He said itís been a long time coming.

ìWe hope to revitalize the town in addition to attracting industry,î Murphy said.

ìItís an opportunity for growth ó simple as that,î said St. George Town Councilman Edward Jordan. ìIt will allow us to steer our growth in the direction that we want.î

The two councils first tried to broker a deal last year but negotiations were tabled until professional appraisals could determine the system's value. Earlier this month, County Council authorized a purchase price of $1.4 million, up from an original offer of $1 million. On Tuesday, the price climbed as the negotiations advanced ó first to $1.7 million and eventually to $1.9 million.

ìWhen we really dug into it, we found it was worth more than we initially thought,î Hargett said.

Earlier this month, County Administrator Jason Ward said much of the sewer systemís value comes from its potential discharge capacity. The system has a current capacity of 800,000 gallons per day and discharges into Polk Swamp, but it's permitted to go to 1.6 million gallons per day. An estimated $5 to $7 million investment would double the capacity.

Citing overflow problems at the county jail and courthouse, Murphy said the system is in dire need of repair.

St. George and its approximately 1,200 sewer customers canít support the cost of upgrades, but the county and its 18,000 customers can, county officials have said.

The county would likely budget $200,000 per year to repair the system's clay pipes over a 10-year period and phase in rates for in-town residential customers over seven years, officials have said.

Hargett, looking ahead, said the possibility of new industry means a more significant tax base in the upper part of the county and, in turn, the eventuality of lower taxes.

ìSt. George isnít going forward like a lot of areas,î said Town Councilman Charles Weeks. ìI want to see people have jobs and I think it [the sewer deal] will benefit the whole area if we can attract some industry.î

Weeks said the deal has promise, but he wants to hear from his constituents.

ìPersonally, I feel like we need some public input on it,î he said.

Town residents will have their chance to weigh in on the proposed deal next Tuesday, April 1 at 6 p.m. in town council chambers.

Contact David Berman at 873-9424 ext. 214 or dberman@journalscene.com