A dispute between Johns Creek and Forsyth County could end up costing the latter some property, though both sides say they want to resolve the matter amicably.
For several years, the two governments have differed over who has responsibility for maintaining McGinnis Ferry Road, which serves as a boundary between the neighbors.
With Johns Creek stepping in to make necessary repairs over the years, officials recently decided to ask the state legislature to move the border to incorporate the entire road into the city limits.
Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker was the sole vote against the measure, which also asks the legislature to approve other adjustments to the city's charter, including annexing portions of Fulton County and changing hiring and firing powers.
The mayor opposed the measure for other reasons, but said the McGinnis Ferry Road issue clearly needs to be resolved.
“That is simply that we need to have better cooperation for the benefit of each of our citizens, because they’re both impacted by the condition of McGinnis Ferry,” Bodker said.
The mayor said he believes both governments can work together to come to an understanding, but "if the starting point is an assumption that because it was done one way under Fulton County, it will continue to be done that way under Johns Creek, that is an unreasonable assumption to start with.”
The border issue dates to 2007, when a wreck on the road resulted in about $7,100 in repairs to the guardrail at Caney Creek Bridge on Forsyth’s side.
Before the city was incorporated in 2006, there was an agreement between Fulton and Forsyth counties that Fulton would be responsible for the repairs along the entire road.
“In the '70s, before Forsyth was the well-to-do suburban area that it is now, it couldn’t afford to take care of roads,” said Doug Nurse, Johns Creek spokesman.
“Fulton County took it on themselves to build and maintain McGinnis Ferry Road.”
But once Johns Creek became a city, there was no clarification for which government would be responsible for what portions.
The city wasn’t obligated to honor Fulton County’s promise, and Forsyth continued to believe Fulton would take care of any repairs needed.
“Forsyth County is taking the position that the bridge was wholly maintained by Fulton and Johns Creek would pick up where Fulton County had left off,” said Ken Jarrard, Forsyth’s attorney.
“But that is, by no means, equivalent to saying it’s Johns Creek’s responsibility ... we treated the bridge as a single structure that’s handled by one jurisdiction, that was Fulton County.”
The city sent a memorandum of understanding, trying to work out a deal with the county. Forsyth officials did not agree and drafted their own memorandum.
“Negotiations just basically broke down,” Nurse said.
Jarrard said he hopes the governments can work something out without state involvement.
“We want to work with Johns Creek ... we want to be a good neighbor and want to work in conjunction,” he said. “I’m optimistic we can get along without having to redraw the boundary.”
Bodker noted there are two issues at this point.
The past, when the city made repairs to the county’s portion of the road, and the future, which includes everything from traffic signals to future incidents along the road.
Though he is optimistic an agreement can be reached, Bodker said his opinion is not indicative of the city's six council members.
“In hindsight, if I had to do it all over again ... my advice to the council would be, why don’t we sit down with legislators, commissioners, whoever, and try to work this out before putting through a charter change that might be misinterpreted as an aggressive position,” he said.
“I think any time you can negotiate and work with another party, it’s a better solution than one party having to unilaterally, or aggressively, make a move.”