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City counters county's water proposal
Current deal expires May 26
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Forsyth County News

At least one Forsyth County commissioner seems unsatisfied with the proposed counteroffer on water contracts from the city of Cumming.

During a special called meeting Monday morning, the city council voted 5-0 to send along a proposal suggested by Mayor H. Ford Gravitt. Gravitt said he had had developed the offer with city staff.

Commission Chairman Jim Boff, who attended the meeting, said Tuesday he felt the commission wouldn’t accept the proposal, calling it “a nonstarter.”

“It doesn’t do anything for the county,” Boff said. “It doesn’t give us ownership [of infrastructure] and I think it probably raises prices overall.”

The current water contract between the two entities expires on May 26.

The city has a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw water from Lake Lanier, but Forsyth County does not.

The county buys most of its untreated water from Cumming, as well as some treated water.

Earlier this month, the commission sent a binding proposal to the council, which sought a 50-year renewal of the untreated water contract, as is, with the condition that the county pay about $11.4 million for a 65 percent ownership of the intake the city built in 2009.

Commissioners also suggested that required amount of treated water be reduced to 800 million gallons per year, with an option to buy an additional 6.5 million gallons per day during the 90-day peak water use period.

The cost would be a flat rate of $2.25 per thousand gallons, and the agreement would last five years with a five-year option to renew.

In the current agreement, the cost fluctuates with the consumer price index and currently amounts to about $2.43 per thousand gallons.

During the meeting Monday, Gravitt acknowledged having received a proposal from the county, and thanked Boff for it, but did not address any of the specifics.

In contrast, the city’s counterproposal includes a five-year contract for treated water on a tiered price structure, which would allow the county to buy about 1.2 billion gallons of water annually.

The cost would be $2.25 per 1,000 gallons up to 3.33 million gallons per day.

After the 3.33 million mark, the daily cost would rise to $2.40 per 1,000 gallons for the next 3.33 million gallons per day.

Any water over that amount would cost $3.60 per 1,000 gallons.

After the five-year term, Gravitt said, the county could opt out of the agreement.

The city’s proposal also includes a 10-year contract on untreated water, which would allow the county to buy up to 3.25 billion gallons annually at a rate of 50 cents per 1,000 gallons.

Any untreated water about that total per year would cost 75 cents per 1,000 gallons.

The city’s proposal states the county would pay $11.4 million for a 65 percent allocation of the city’s intake facility. “But the allocation fee is not ownership,” Gravitt said.

The intake facility is capable of withdrawing up to 104 million gallons per day, or mgd, but is permitted only for a maximum of 37 mgd, with the city’s allocation being 21 mgd and county’s 16 mgd.

Reached Tuesday, Boff was not optimistic about the offer’s prospects before the commission.

“We probably will talk about it, but I don’t get the feeling that it’s going to be something that the board approves,” he said.

Boff pointed to unfinished, or raw, water costs and the intake fee in particular.

“Currently, we’re not paying $11 million and currently we pay 10 cents per 1,000 for the raw [water] and this [city] proposal asks for 50 cents and then goes to 75 cents … for raw water.”

Boff said he was unsure of what actions the county commission may take.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “It’s so far off, a tweak is not what we’re looking for.”

Monday’s meeting also included a public comment time, during which two people spoke, though only one addressed the water negotiations.

County resident Jack Gleason suggested the county and city should become one entity to have more leverage in working with federal entities such as the Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Division.

In regards to that suggestion, Gravitt later called the city’s water facilities “an enterprise system.”

“We have 17,000 customers and I don’t think any of them wants to give up their ownership in this water system,” he said.