Social Circle gets $1.6M federal grant

SOCIAL CIRCLE - Social Circle has received more than $1.5 million in federal stimulus money to help fund the construction of water and sewer lines to the new General Mills distribution center.

The U.S. Commerce Department announced Thursday that the city would receive a $1.6 million Economic Development Administration grant. The funds are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

"We are pretty excited," Mayor Jim Burgess said Thursday. "This is a huge, huge thing for our little town to get a grant of that size."

Burgess said the total estimated cost to run water and sewer lines to the property on East Hightower Trail, along with the construction of a water storage tank that will be used for fire prevention purposes, is expected to be about $2.2 million. As a condition of the grant, Social Circle must contribute $600,000 in matching funds, which will be paid out of the city's bond fund, the mayor said.

"This grant will help create new jobs and boost private investment by building critical infrastructure needed to pave the way for a state-of-the-art General Mills distribution facility and other businesses in Social Circle," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a press release announcing the grant.

EDA is an agency within the U.S. Commerce Department and supports the economic development needs of distressed communities throughout the U.S., according to the release.

The $1.6 million grant will be used to construct utilities to the 1.5 million-square-foot facility that will distribute General Mills products throughout the country. The center is expected to initially bring 120 new jobs to the area.

The facility will be one of the largest in the country built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. LEED is an internationally recognized certification system that measures how well a building or community performs on energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

"This grant helps us fulfill a commitment we made to that industry and it puts us in a position for future economic development along that sewer line," Burgess said.

The mayor said the city will immediately begin the process of soliciting bids. He said he anticipates the bid process will be completed in about 30 days and the lines can be in place by the end of the year. General Mills has said it hopes to open the facility by May.

The Social Circle Development Authority is eyeing future development along East Hightower Trail, which is already home to Solo Cup's 1.3-million-square-foot distribution center that opened in 2006.

The City Council is mulling whether to impose a 1-mill property tax increase that would help the Development Authority purchase 242 acres of industrial-zoned property situated along the CSX railroad, between Solo Cup and the new General Mills plant.

If approved, the 1-mill increase is expected to generate about $154,000 a year in tax revenue.

The City Council has held three public hearings on the proposed tax hike and was poised to vote on the matter during its Aug. 18 meeting. However, public opposition to the proposal prompted Burgess to defer the issue until Sept. 8, after the Social Circle Development Authority has a chance to meet with members of the Walton County Industrial Development Authority on Monday.

Members of the city's Development Authority have said they believe the Development Authority has negotiated a fair price with the two property owners, but the value - and cost - of the land will likely only increase once utility lines are laid. The negotiated deal is good through the end of September, Development Authority Chairman Grady Lemonds said at the Aug. 18 public hearing.