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Its time for water 'fiasco' to come to an end
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Forsyth County News
Years come and years go, but the inability of the Forsyth County government and the city of Cumming to agree on a water contract seemingly lasts forever.

Maybe that’s not a great surprise, given that the governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama have been at odds over water for two decades without a resolution. But the city-county contract is significantly less complex than those issues facing the governors, and the fact that four years into discussion it still is not resolved is inexplicable.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt made his frustration obvious last month, when he said talks between the city and county had “turned into a fiasco,” adding that a resolution was farther from being a reality than when discussions started four years ago.

Prompting Gravitt’s ire was the fact the county had decided it could not reach a decision by the deadline set for acceptance of the city’s latest proposal and had requested an extension, which the city chose not to provide.

The core issues in the debate are the rates the city will charge the county for water under a proposed 20-year agreement, and the amount of money the county would provide for expansion and improvement of the water system.

Some history is in order. Years ago, the city obtained a state permit to withdraw water from Lake Lanier and established a water system. The county government never obtained a permit and allowed the city to become the provider of water for the area.

Obviously, the unincorporated portions of the county have changed dramatically in the past 30 years or so, but the county still does not have a withdrawal permit, nor is it likely to have one anytime soon given the current status of water issues in the metro area.

With no permit, the county must depend on other governmental entities for water. Either it buys water from Cumming, or from other area governments. The scenario that makes the most sense for all is for the county to buy from the city and the two entities to work together.

Making that happen has been difficult in recent years as ongoing feuding between the two governments has made agreement on a number of significant issues difficult, if not impossible.

In this case, the city has the upper hand — it has control of the water, and can sell it elsewhere if not to the county. But Gravitt made it clear he prefers a city-county agreement that would best serve all of those in Forsyth.

So do we.

The current contract between the two governments expires in 2012. The city has offered a rate structure that would charge a fixed rate for the first five years of a new 20-year agreement, then tie future rates to the consumer price index. The city has also asked the county to pay about 65 percent of the $15 million being invested to expand infrastructure to better serve all residents of the county.

The county couldn’t decide whether to accept that offer, and the deadline for doing so passed. Now it’s back to the drawing board.

It’s hard to understand the lack of good faith bargaining between the two and the failure to reach agreement. The county is unlikely to have its own withdrawal permit, and will be at the mercy of some governmental entity that does. The failure of the county to reach agreement with the city will not bode well for its future water customers.

And 2012 seems a lot closer than it did just a month ago.