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Mediation talks begin

Sides try to agree on sales tax, water

POSTED: October 15, 2012 12:34 a.m.
 

Cumming and Forsyth County officials are scheduled to spend Monday and Tuesday attempting to resolve differences over two key issues.

Monday’s mediation session will involve the Local Option Sales Tax, or LOST, split between the two governments, while Tuesday’s gathering will address the water contract dispute.

Both talks will be mediated by former Georgia Chief Justice Norman Fletcher, whose fee will be shared in an amount determined by attorneys for the governments.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said Forsyth officials will attend “in good faith as the law demands and are prepared to work diligently to see if a compromise can be reached.”

City Attorney Dana Miles could not be reached for comment Friday.

Because attorneys say both sessions are exempt from the open meetings act, they are being held behind closed doors.

However, no potential agreements are binding until approved in open meetings by both parties.

The Cumming City Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday night.

The LOST discussion Monday will focus on how to divide the 1-percent sales tax revenue, which currently goes 85 percent to the county and 15 percent to the city.

The tax is designed to roll back property taxes, and stays in place for 10-year periods if a county and its cities, in this case only Cumming, agree to have a LOST and set the revenue division.

The tax split, which is based primarily on services provided, must be negotiated by year’s end.

State laws set requirements for the process, and Forsyth and Cumming did not meet the August deadline for direct renegotiation and have therefore entered the mediation phase.

The mediation on the water contract Tuesday is needed because the governments have been unable to finalize details of an informal agreement reached in the spring.

Forsyth has a permit allocation from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but no way to draw the water from Lake Lanier. As a result, it purchases most of its untreated, as well as some treated, water from Cumming.

The current rates for water the county buys from the city are a little more than 10 cents per 1, 000 gallons for untreated and about $2.43 per 1, 000 gallons for treated.

The water contract proposal from May would set the county’s price for treated water at $2.25 per 1, 000 gallons, adjusted to the consumer price index.

Forsyth would maintain the minimum purchase of 1.6 billion gallons per year, and the contract would last for five years, with a five-year option to renew.

For untreated water, the county would pay the current rate, also subject to a price index, for 15 years with a 15-year option to renew.

In addition, the city would also make available an average of 4.5 million gallons per day of untreated water from its withdrawal permit from the EPD.

The county also agreed to pay $11.4 million, which Cumming had billed in February, for its portion of the city’s expanded water infrastructure.

Unless a deal is reached, Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt has directed that sales of untreated water to the county will stop on Oct. 31.

The county would still be able to buy treated water at a higher rate to provide its customers

Staff writer Alyssa LaRenzie contributed to this report.

 

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