Written by Alex Tostado
With the recent flooding in Valdosta, Mayor John Gayle observed National Severe Weather Preparedness Week and spoke about sales tax reconstruction along with the possibility of a new water treatment plant in Valdosta in a press conference last week.
Gayle has lived in Valdosta for 62 years, and he cannot think of a time that has brought such severe weather as the past few years.
“For years and years and years we have never had that problem,” Gayle said. “What has caused that flood in 2009 and again [two weeks ago] is we are a water shield. We are in the bottom of the boat.”
Gayle explained that it is not the rain fall that Valdosta gets that causes the flooding.
“All of the water comes from as far north as Cordele,” Gayle said.
Even thought the Little River merges with the Withlacoochee River a half mile away from the city, the water from the north is enough to bring the flood into city limits. The merging is also beginning to affect the water treatment plant.
“Our water treatment plant was built in 1980,” Gayle said. “At that time it was below the hundred year flood line, so all of [the recent flooding] has brought us into the hundred year flood line. So we are not able to do anything with it; we can’t prepare.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommended that Valdosta move the plant for 92 million dollars.
The mayor is in support of moving the plant to a different location, but he does not have the support he needs to do so.
“We have since cut everything to the bare bone– we feel like we can rebuild that plant and move it for 55 million dollars,” Gayle said.
According to the mayor, there are only a few sources of income for the city which include tax payers and people who do business in Valdosta and from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPOLTS).
Valdosta water and sewer taxes rank as the second lowest in the state.
“There is a possibility that we could increase rates, but it could take 100 years to raise 55 million dollars,” Gayle said. “SPLOTS is the only way we could raise 150 million dollars in six years.”
According to Gayle, Valdosta is the only city, and Lowndes is the only county, to ever vote against SPLOTS in the state of Georgia.
“We have to try to sell the public now on the fact that we don’t need that money, we have got to have it,” Gayle said.
“As we have seen recently in the city of Valdosta, we have acts of God that cause us a lot of problems and we are still recovering from an act of God,” Gayle said.