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Costs of water may rise
City wants county to share burden
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Forsyth County News
Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt has made the latest move in the ongoing water contract saga between the city and Forsyth County.

During the city council’s monthly meeting Tuesday, Gravitt asked Cumming Utilities Department Director Jon Heard to explore ways to recoup some of the city’s $60 million in recent water investments.

“We need to start building the reserve back up,” Gravitt said. “I was thinking and looking at some of our biggest water customers. For instance, we have Forsyth County. They have used the city of Cumming like a spare tire over the years.”

The current contract between the two governments requires the county to buy 1.62 billion gallons of water annually from the city for $2.40 per thousand gallons.

The agreement, which doesn’t expire until 2012, allows the county to use an average of 4.5 million gallons per day of the city’s water.

“When they want more, they just automatically take more,” Gravitt said. “And in some cases, they’ll use up to 10 million gallons.

“We need to look about charging the county a regular fee for that extra 5 million gallons a day.”

Gravitt’s frustration stems, in large part, from the protracted water contract negotiations with the county, which he described last month as a “fiasco.”

In December, the council rejected the county commission’s request for more time to consider an offer from the city. The offer was then rescinded.

The commission has said the proposed 20-year contract extension between the two governments is potentially a longer commitment than it wants.

But because the county does not have a permit to pull water from Lake Lanier, it gets most, if not all, of its water from Cumming, with limited options for immediate change.

After the meeting, Heard said he needed some clarification from the mayor since the contract might not place a cap on the county for maximum daily use.

As long as the county uses 1.62 billion gallons annually or less, he said, it would appear the county is falling within its guidelines.

Reached Wednesday, County Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse doubted that a surcharge would be allowed under the current contract.

“The contract specifies a yearly amount, it doesn’t specify a daily amount,” he said. “If the city tried to charge us an overage based on that, that would be a violation.”

City Administrator Gerald Blackburn said Heard and the city’s legal staff will look into options for when the county has excessive daily use, which puts additional pressure on the infrastructure.

Added Heard: “I think the general idea would be to know how much water we’re going to sell today so we can have a consistent amount. We’re their peak plant. They don’t have to build for the peak day, we’re taking care of that.”