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County not happy with water tab
Officials want to review bill with city
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County's got a big water bill to settle with the city of Cumming.

Demands on a shrinking Lake Lanier prompted the city to place temporary emergency pumps at a depth in Lake Lanier that ensured the water supply for both entities.

The county buys water from the city under a contract that expires in May 2012.

Cost sharing for operation and maintenance is mentioned in the contract, which details the basics of each government's role in the city-owned water intake facility.

County officials didn't seem to have a problem sharing the cost of maintenance. But they took issue with a bill that came in a couple months ago, one that they say they didn't know about until it totaled $831,786.

Following discussion at Tuesday's work session, county commissioners made plans to meet soon with the city to discuss "a compromise figure."

The county does not have a permit to withdraw water from the lake, though it has been trying to get one for decades from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

County water and sewer director Tim Perkins said it was his understanding the city's temporary pumps avoided "a serious problem."

"The city did a good job keeping us in the water," Perkins said. "Everything done in these invoices, in my opinion, was needed."

Still, Perkins said, the county was confused at the bill from November.

Multiple projects, including emergency dredging and the construction of a new water intake pipe dubbed "Project 1020," left county officials wondering what exactly they were helping fund.

"Had it been one project, it would have been simpler," said Perkins, who met with Cumming Utilities Director Jon Heard after receiving the bill.

Perkins suggested the city and county "sit down and mediate and negotiate."

"In the contract it pretty clearly says there's supposed to be prior written approval," Perkins said. "We're not saying we don't need to play a part in it, because they've kept us in the water."

County Attorney Ken Jarrard, who has studied the contract, said it "would be interesting to know why we were not invoiced monthly."

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said there were "requests made for us to be involved, but we weren't, so we really had no idea what was going on until the end."

Commissioners Brian Tam and Jim Boff recently met with city officials to discuss extending the water contract beyond 2012.

Boff said Tuesday the meeting was "overall, very good and open."

Cumming has taken a proactive approach to the falling lake level. Construction on "Project 1020" will allow the city to withdraw water from the lake as low as 1,020 feet above sea level.

As of Wednesday morning, the lake level was about 1,056 feet, about 14 feet below full pool.

The project is expected to be completed by June. The facility could then have the capability to pump 110 million gallons of water per day.

In the three phases of this project, the city has spent nearly $15 million, all of which came from its reserves.