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Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - 11:50am

Counties Weigh Water Project Options

Georgia cities and counties could have a harder time finding money to build big water and sewer projects.

Declining tax revenues are only part of the problem.

Property tax digests are falling, leaving counties in a budget lurch.

But for big water and sewer projects, they also relied on low-cost financing from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

Last year, GEFA lost nearly a third of its lending pool because of a state budget crunch.

Beth Brown of the Georgia Association of County Commissioners says, that means counties could have to turn to private lenders.

"What we can expect most likely is that the third-party lenders that will hold those loans in the future may not offer the same flexibility that counties and cities have been able to employ with GEFA," Brown says. "That flexibility could be important in terms of either taking advantage of a better rate or possibly even extending the loan."

Officials in Jefferson County, Alabama, home to Birmingham, relied on private lenders for big sewer upgrades and now could default on them in the biggest municipal bankruptcy case in American history.

So far, no Georgia county faces a similar problem.