Forsyth County commissioners agreed Thursday to send several nonbinding proposals on water contract terms to the city of Cumming for feedback.
The five-member commission voted 4-0, with Pete Amos recused, to transmit three separate proposals, each from a different commissioner.
Amos has temporarily recused himself until the board of ethics issues an opinion on whether his A&A Water Company, which resells county and city water, constitutes a conflict of interest in renegotiating the water contracts.
Forsyth County does not have a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw water from Lake Lanier as does the city. The county buys most of its untreated water from Cumming, as well as some treated water.
With no other immediate options for water, Forsyth hopes to renegotiate terms with Cumming. The current contracts expire on May 26.
The commission did not approve any of the proposals, rather it wants to hear what the city has to say about them.
As of late Friday, Cumming Administrator Gerald Blackburn said the city had not received the proposals.
During Thursday’s meeting, Commissioners Patrick Bell, Brian Tam and Todd Levent each submitted a nonbinding proposal.
“It doesn’t appear that the proposal that we’ve put together is going to be accepted,” Bell said of the plan he worked on with Tam.
“I’d like to … send it across the street as nonbinding to get some input.”
If the city agrees, he said, the agreement will return to commissioners for consideration of approval.
Levent added that all three proposals should be sent over in the same manner, to which Tam concurred.
“We have a water contract that expires in five to six weeks,” Tam said. “It’s time to send something over there … I’m not going to vote against sending anything across the street.”
He suggested a five-year extension of the treated water contract with a five-year option to renew at a fixed rate of $2.25 per 1,000 gallons, which he said is the same rate neighboring Fulton County charges Forsyth for treated water.
The county would still be required to buy about 1.6 billion gallons of water each year, as is in the current agreement.
With so many unknowns about water, Tam said his plan guarantees a source.
As an official proposal to the city, Tam’s plan did not muster any support, however, failing 1-3, with his vote the lone one in favor.
He did not offer up any changes to the untreated water contract, which is based on several factors but amounts to about 10 cents per 1,000 gallons, nor did Levent.
Levent’s proposal called for a 25-year contract with renewals each five years that could be canceled with 180 days’ notice.
The county would be required to purchase 800 million gallons of treated water per year at a cost of $2.20 per 1,000 gallons, with additional water available at the same price.
Bell’s plan, which Tam also worked on, calls for the county to have no commitment to purchase treated water from the city, but rather an option to buy it as needed at the current rate of $2.43 per 1,000 gallons.
He intends for that measure to roll back water rates for residential customers.
The proposal would also raise the cost for untreated water to 50 cents per 1,000 gallons for the first two years, 75 cents in the third and then an adjustment by the consumer price index each year after that.
His plan includes a 20-year term for untreated water, with a 10-year option for renewal and no payment for the city’s water intake infrastructure.
In January, Cumming billed Forsyth about $11.4 million, which the city said represented the county’s portion of costs associated with an expanded intake and water line.
In a separate vote, the commission sent a nonbinding request to consider fee-simple ownership and, based on that, receive 65 percent capacity of the city’s expanded intake and the title.
Levent, who requested the letter, said the commission should formally ask the city before assuming ownership is off the table.
“That [intake] is your guaranteed water security for the county and your future development,” said Levent, adding that the increased cost of untreated water in Bell’s plan would eventually exceed the amount to buy the pipe.
Though the commission decided to suggest shared ownership, Bell said he’s been told “the intake is not for sale.”
Also, Bell said increased withdrawals from Lanier may not be granted by the corps or the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
“Why pay $11.4 million for something we’re not sure is going to be there?” he said. “This way, we’re not responsible for it. And if we don’t get water, we don’t pay.”
To address the bill, commissioners agreed to send a letter stating the county is not in a position to pay at this time and does not believe it has a legal obligation to do so.
However, Forsyth may consider payment in return for part ownership in conjunction with negotiations of the contract.
Both votes were 4-0 with Amos recused.
Cumming’s mayor and city council are scheduled to meet Tuesday, though an agenda has not yet been released.
Staff writer Crystal Ledford contributed to this report.
Board deadlocks over reallocation
Forsyth County commissioners on Thursday also discussed the possibility of asking the state Environmental Protection Division to reallocate Cumming’s shared water withdrawal permit with the county.
The permit allows for a maximum of 37 million gallons per day to be drawn in a 24-hour period, with 16 mgd for the county and 21 mgd for the city.
The commission had split opinions on asking the EPD to reverse those numbers in a 2-2 vote, with Pete Amos recused.
Commissioners Patrick Bell and Brian Tam favored postponing the issue until the contracts have been resolved, while their colleagues Jim Boff and Todd Levent felt the county should get started on the requests for future needs.
Tam said since the EPD is unlikely to respond before the current water contracts expire, there’s no reason to make the request now.
“Doing this may be making a delicate situation difficult,” Tam said. “I think we ought to postpone this.”
He said if the contract issue were to land in court, making such a request would not appear that the county acted “in good faith.”
Boff, who chairs the commission, countered that he believes it’s “operating in the best interests of the county.”
Levent agreed, stating a reallocation would more closely align the county with the 65 percent capacity of the intake for which the city is billing it.
Due to the tie vote, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the issue will be moved to the next agenda where a tie might be broken.