A week after the Cumming City Council rejected their three nonbinding offers for water contracts, Forsyth County commissioners agreed Tuesday to send a single proposal.
The commission voted 4-0 to send the binding offer to the city and to hold a May 3 public hearing on the potential agreement, with Commissioner Pete Amos recused.
Amos has temporarily stepped aside on the matter and asked the local board of ethics to issue an opinion on whether his A&A Water Company, which buys and resells city and county water, presents a conflict of interest.
After more than two hours of discussion Tuesday, and two breaks to type up the information, Commissioner Todd Levent expressed his thoughts on the importance of coming to an agreement.
“Congratulations, gentlemen,” he said. “Thank you all.”
Forsyth doesn’t have a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw water from Lake Lanier, but the city does.
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 prior to the contracts expiring May 26.
The proposal by the commission would seek 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 cost portion of the intake the city built in return for 65 percent ownership.
The commission had considered a 30-year agreement up until the last version of its proposal.
“That’s fair because if you’re going to have ownership of the structure, it should be 50,” Levent said. “This fighting like this won’t exist again because we’ll be partners in infrastructure.”
The city built an intake into Lanier in 2009 and billed the county in January for 65 percent of the construction costs, amounting to about $11.4 million.
The intake is capable of withdrawing up to 104 million gallons per day, or mgd, but is only permitted for a maximum of 37 mgd, with the city’s allocation being 21 mgd and the county’s 16 mgd.
Commissioners proposed in the offer that the city will also sell water to the county from its allocation if its own needs have been met.
For future needs, the offer states that the county will receive the greater of either “the full extent of additional allocation proposed by the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, May 2009 [edition]” or 65 percent of any permit increase granted by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
The county and city would also agree to work together to receive any increases in the withdrawal permit.
Citing his talks with the EPD director, Commissioner Brian Tam said he was told that cooperation could benefit both governments.
“You have more leverage when you have an investment in the water,” Tam said, “and you have more leverage when [you] come forward jointly.”
On the treated water side, the county would reduce the required purchase amount of water from the city 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 that fluctuates with the consumer price index, which currently amounts to about $2.43 per thousand gallons.
The commission settled on the required purchase amount with an option as a middle ground between Levent and Commissioner Patrick Bell seeking 800 million gallons per year and Tam’s suggestion to keep it at the current purchase of 1.6 billion gallons per year.
“If you look at the numbers, we’ll need it half the days at least in five years from now,” Tam said. “I’m concerned that [800 million gallons per year] is not enough.”
The 6.5 mgd option will be available in the summer months to ensure the county reaches its peak demand, he said.
Forsyth County has a permit to treat 14 mgd, but has hit a peak day of more than 21 million gallons in the summer.
The expanded water treatment plant, which will open this summer, has the ability to treat up to 28 mgd, if permitted.