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No water consensus from county
Latest proposal is nonbinding
Water WEB
Commissioners met Wednesday morning to consider a response to a water agreement proposed by the city of Cumming. - photo by Jim Dean

At a glance

• Forsyth County’s April 24 proposal

Untreated water for 50 years at the current rate of about 10 cents per 1,000 gallons, adjusted to the consumer price index.

Treated water at a flat $2.25 per 1,000 gallons for five years. A minimum purchase of 800 million gallons per year would be required, with the city making an additional 6.5 million gallons per day available in the summer months.

The county would pay $11.4 million for ownership of 65 percent in the Lake Lanier intake.

• Cumming’s May 7 counter offer

Untreated water for 10 years at a rate of 50 cents per 1,000 gallons for up to 3.25 billion gallons per year, and 75 cents per 1,000 gallons for any purchases above that amount.

Treated water for five years on a tiered pricing structure, starting at $2.25 per 1,000 gallons for the first 3.3 million gallons per day, increasing to $2.40 per 1,000 gallons for the next 3.3 million gallons per day and then to $3.60 per 1,000 gallons for any purchases above that.

The county would pay $11.4 million for allocation of 65 percent of the water permitted through the intake, but not ownership.

• Forsyth County’s May 9 nonbinding proposal

Untreated water for 15 years with a 15-year option to renew. The cost would be 30 cents per 1,000 gallons, adjusted to the consumer price index, for the first term. If renewed for a second term, the cost would reset to 20 cents per 1,000 gallons, adjusted to the CPI.

Treated water for five years with a five-year option to renew. The cost would be a flat rate of $2.25 per 1,000 gallons for the first term. If renewed, the price would then be subject to the CPI adjustment. A minimum purchase of 1.2 billion gallons per year would be required.

The county would receive leasehold of the intake, but not ownership, with 65 percent of the allocation based on the untreated water rate structre.

Source: Cumming, Forsyth governments

Three Forsyth County commissioners took more than two hours Wednesday morning to agree on a counterproposal to send the city of Cumming in the ongoing water contract negotiations.

But they didn’t have the fourth vote, Chairman Jim Boff, which was needed to send a binding offer before the current contracts expire.

Instead, the commission voted 4-0 to send over the proposal as nonbinding for the city’s input and request that Cumming extend the current water contracts to June 20 from the current expiration of May 26.

That would allow enough time for the county to hold a public hearing on the intergovernmental agreement proposal, after which just three votes could approve sending over a binding offer, per county rules.

The next public hearing meeting is June 7. Commissioners did not set a hearing Wednesday, but can still do so at the scheduled May 17 meeting.

Commissioner Pete Amos recused himself from all votes and discussion on the matter, citing a conflict of interest due to his ownership of A&A Water Company, which buys and resells county and city water.

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.

To date, the city has refused to entertain three nonbinding proposals sent by commissioners. On Monday, the council sent a counteroffer to a binding proposal.

The proposal discussed Wednesday would save the county an estimated $21.6 million over 15 years, compared to the current contracts.

For treated water, the commissioners’ offer anticipates buying 1.2 billion gallons per year at a price of $2.25 per 1,000 gallons, upping the minimum required purchase from the last proposal.

The contract would be five years at a fixed rate, with a five-year option to renew, at which time the cost would be adjusted for the consumer price index, or CPI.

Forsyth County currently pays about $2.43 per 1,000 gallons, which is subject to the price index.

The proposal anticipates a 15-year untreated water contract, with a county option to renew for another 15. The last offer requested 50 years at the current rate of about 10 cents per 1,000 gallons.

The shorter duration would allow the county to not be locked in in case it were to receive its own intake or another option, Commissioner Brian Tam said.

The cost of this proposal would be 30 cents per 1,000 gallons in the first term adjusted to the consumer price index. If renewed, the cost would reset at 20 cents per 1,000 gallons.

The higher rate for the first term is intended to pay for use of the intake built by the city, which billed the county $11.4 million for its share.

Though the county contends it has no legal obligation to pay, the proposed contract anticipates Forsyth would receive at least 65 percent — the same share — of any future withdrawals permitted by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

The proposal also requires the city to work with the county on seeking an increase in those withdrawals.

Commissioner Patrick Bell said throughout the meeting the group can’t get hung up on ownership.

“Our job is to get this water contract done and get a fair price for our citizens,” Bell said. “We’ve got to get past this spitefulness of what the city’s done over the last 20 years. We’re not going to change that, and we’re not going to get ownership.”

Boff said he could not support the proposal discussed by his colleagues without the offer including part ownership in the intake.

He moved to send the last offer again, which failed in a 2-2, with Commissioner Todd Levent also in support.

The county’s previous proposal included ownership, which the city council’s counteroffer did not.

Tam and Bell were upset with Boff’s dissent after hours of discussion.

“Do you want the court system to solve this for us?” Tam asked him.

Boff responded: “If it gets us a better deal, yes … That’s a chance I’m willing to take.”

Bell said not coming to an agreement before the expiration will subject the county’s water customers to a rate increase.

He was so frustrated with Boff that he made a motion for the commission to censure the chairman for shirking his responsibilities. The proposal didn’t get anywhere.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt has said the city would continue to provide water to the county if the contract expires without a new agreement, but the price will increase from about 10 cents per 1,000 gallons to $1.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said if an agreement isn’t reached, the commissioners can go to court or pay the price that the provider charges.