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Sides still working on language of water deal
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County commissioners grappled Monday with some details not addressed in the renewed agreement to purchase water from the city of Cumming.

The bullet points of the deal were accepted by both governments in late May just days before the 25-year agreement in place expired.

However, an intergovernmental agreement making the deal official was passed back and forth from county to city as each side worked on acceptable contract language.

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, and has so far continued to pay the rates of the 25-year agreement until a new contract is official.

Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard said Monday that the city drafted the first intergovernmental agreement, which the county edited and returned.

The city did not agree with that redlined version and sent a response on June 28, Jarrard said.

He has since prepared a more streamlined contract, which he said extends the previous agreement subject to the new terms.

Jarrard said the primary disagreements are in the language, but the city also raised the issues of two “substantive components” not previously addressed.

That feedback from the city filled in both the cost of purchasing untreated water from Cumming’s permitted allocation and the price for treated water above those needs.

County commissioners turned their attention Monday to those points.

The new deal set the county’s price for treated water at $2.25 per 1,000 gallons — down from $2.43 — adjusted to the consumer price index, with a minimum purchase continuing at 1.6 billion gallons per year.

For untreated water, the county will pay the current rate of a little more than 10 cents per 1,000 gallons, also subject to a price index.

In addition, the city also will make available an average of 4.5 million gallons per day of untreated water from its withdrawal permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

The city suggested the price for those extra untreated water purchases be $1.25 per 1,000 gallons, and any additional needs would be treated water at $3 per 1,000 gallons.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to add an amendment to the contract for untreated water at the city’s suggested rate, with a disclaimer that the payment doesn’t mean Forsyth won’t continue to seek an expansion of its own withdrawal permit.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt said that the council could consider the county’s latest contract at its Tuesday night meeting.

By the end of Monday’s meeting, the commission did not approve an addendum for the price of additional treated water, after Commissioner Todd Levent opposed a vote to pay $2.50 per 1,000 gallons.

All votes on intergovernmental agreements need four votes to pass, and the fifth board member, Commissioner Pete Amos, recused himself due to his ownership in a company that buys and resells both county and city water.

Levent said he didn’t feel that the city’s proposed rates followed what was agreed on in May, since he said the commissioners expected that all purchases would be at the same price.

Jarrard agreed that the county anticipated that, but the city officials only saw what was written.

Commissioner Brian Tam said even at the $1.25 per 1,000 gallons for untreated water, the cost to treat the water at the county plant for customers is still less than buying finished water from the city.

Tam added that the county water department figures show we only need the additional water for about a week each year, and have yet to enter the suggested $3 range.

“It’s just an insurance policy,” Tam said.

The agreement is set for 15 years with a 15-year option to renew for untreated water, and five years with a five-year option for treated water.

The county also agreed to pay up front nearly $11.4 million the city sought for 65 percent of the cost to build a larger water intake in 2009.

The payment would likely come from the water and sewer fund’s money set aside for capital improvements.

In return, the county receives at least 65 percent of any future withdrawals permitted by the EPD and use of the structure for its lifespan.

The agreement also requires the city to work with the county on seeking permit increases.