Citing the lack of a formal water contract, Cumming city leaders voted Tuesday night to stop selling untreated water to Forsyth County in about six weeks.
During a regular meeting of the city council, Mayor H. Ford Gravitt made the recommendation, which the city council approved 5-0, to stop selling untreated water to Forsyth in October.
“I’m going to request and recommend to the [council] that as of Oct. 1 of this year, that we terminate the raw water portion of the county and all the water that the county will receive — all the water the county needs, we’re not going to cut them off — will come through the treated water facility of the city of Cumming at $2.50 a thousand gallons beginning Oct. 1,” Gravitt said.
It was not immediately clear how the county could avoid this turn of events.
Forsyth currently buys untreated and treated water from Cumming. The rates are a little more than 10 cents per 1,000 gallons for untreated and about $2.43 per 1,000 gallons for treated water.
Council also unanimously voted to deny an interim water agreement that the county had proposed, which was basically an extension of a previous 25-year contract between the city and county that expired in May.
The county had proposed extending that contract through the end of the year as leaders ironed out details of a new deal, which was tentatively struck in May.
An agreement is needed because the county does not have a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw water from Lake Lanier, while the city does.
Gravitt called the deal that was reached in May “basically a letter of intent.”
That proposal 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, on May 23, sent a one-page agreement to the water contract, and this agreement was basically a letter of intent,” Gravitt said. “Because the proposal that was sent over was followed up by a letter saying that if you agree to this, it’s got to come back before the board of commissioners for approval.
“So anyway, this one-page document turned into a 14-page document from the county attorney and we’ve worked on that 14-page document and we haven’t been able to resolve this issue.”
Commission Chairman Jim Boff, who attended the meeting, said Wednesday that the city’s stance was “an interesting statement.”
“Number one, it seems unbelievably selfish to me,” Boff said. “Also it amazes me that [Gravitt] would go back on a signed document that he had already agreed with us.”
Boff said the commission would have to weigh the county’s next step.
“I can’t speak for the board, but I would imagine the courts are going to get involved in this in one way or another,” he said.
Without a formal agreement in place, Gravitt said the city has no obligation to provide the county raw water.
“We’re not obligated under the [withdrawal] permit since the contract expired to furnish the county that raw water,” he said.
“I think that’s fair, that’s reasonable … raw water will be discontinued due to the fact that it’s illegal now for the city maybe to be pumping water since the county doesn’t have a contract with the city.”
Gravitt said he also took issue with $11.4 million, billed in February, that he feels Cumming is owed for the county’s portion of expanded water infrastructure.
Boff countered that the county has offered to pay.
“Of course, we did offer the mayor the $11.4 million he’s so upset about in the agreement that he actually signed that he agreed to,” Boff said.