Officials must have infrastructure plan

“Never buy anything that eats.” Billy Rose, an investor and Broadway impresario, said that in 1949. His warning was about racehorses. Today, that racehorse’s name is “Infrastructure.” In the language of horse breeding, it’s “Infrastructure by Neglect.”

Racehorses are beautiful creatures, paraded on the track before major races, adorned with roses when they win. Infrastructure is seldom beautiful and is often hidden: sewers, water lines, underground electric cables.

Some infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and cart paths is more obvious. Most of the underground things are not obvious until they fail, usually catastrophically.

We as taxpayers and consumers are on the hook for maintenance and repair of infrastructure, whether it be through taxes or charges on our utility bills. Right now, the city of Peachtree City is seriously considering a move that would double the Peachtree City stormwater tax to provide debt service on a new bond.

Perhaps we deserve this. We and the government we created are — charitably speaking — guilty of “benign neglect” of stormwater infrastructure.

When Peachtree City celebrated its 50th anniversary recently, so did many of the hundreds of culverts that carry rainwater through storm sewers and under roads. Most of the culverts were installed by developers who knew that taxpayers would have maintenance responsibility. The quality of these culverts wasn’t always the highest.

The expected lifespan of these culverts, most of which are corrugated steel pipe (CSP), is about 25—40 years, with variables including soil acidity making it hard to come up with a more exact number.

Costs to repair and replace CSP in the city over the next ten years or so may exceed $65 million.

And CSP is only part of the stormwater problem. Dams, ponds, and retention ponds are also involved. Repairing stormwater infrastructure is a legitimate target for the city’s Stormwater Management Team.

We as responsible citizens must be part of the discussions and must be part of the implementation. Things to look for include a plan for how the borrowed money will be used. (One shouldn’t sell bonds to fix the sky because Chicken Little runs around crying that it is falling.)

It is critical that there be a plan and a commitment to that plan before the money is borrowed.

The city’s engineers appear to have an understanding of the problem. They have identified the most critical, short-term needs. They have attached priorities and costs to the first set of projects. That’s the plan. Now, we need a firm commitment to that plan from our elected leaders.

Yes, it’s going to hurt to pay a doubled stormwater tax. However, we have reached a “pay me now, or pay me a lot more, later” situation. We either address the problem now or react to emergencies created by neglect: emergencies that will in the long run cost much more to handle.

By the way: calling the stormwater tax a “fee” doesn’t make it a fee. Repeating something that isn’t true doesn’t make it true; saying it loudly does not make it true.

Lawyers and the Supreme Court can weasel-word the difference between a tax and a fee but at the end of the day, any money collected by government is a tax.

We must take back our government. What I’ve said here doesn’t alter that. This is a time to take back government by demanding they address neglected infrastructure before there are catastrophic failures, by demanding they publish and stick to a plan, and by demanding stormwater infrastructure problems be addressed before they become the racehorse that eats our lunch.

Paul Lentz, MSE, curmudgeon

Peachtree City, Ga.

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