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Water contract hearing firm
Board opts against accelerated timeline
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Forsyth County News

 

A public hearing on the Forsyth County water contracts with Cumming will remain scheduled for April 5, despite the county attorney offering a way to speed it up.

Ken Jarrard asked the commission Thursday if it would like to consider changing its rules to allow that hearing to take place March 15.

“The only way to reduce that timeline would be to literally change your rules,” Jarrard said. “I’m throwing it out there to you, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to pursue that.”

At its Tuesday meeting, the commission voted 3-2 to pursue extending the current water contracts, which expire in May, through Oct. 31.

An intergovernmental agreement requires four-fifths of the commission, or three of five votes after a public hearing is held.

The rules state that intergovernmental agreements, when receiving a simple majority of three votes, can go to the next available public hearing calendar, which takes place the first meeting of the month.

Jarrard said altering the rules to allow the hearing at the next available meeting would allow them to resolve the matter sooner.

No commissioners moved to make a change to the rules, so Jarrard said he would continue as planned.

“On April 5, I will have an IGA prepared for you that will do what I believe the board was endeavoring to do at the work session,” he said. “You need to have something to vote on that evening.”

Forsyth County does not have a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw water from Lake Lanier, but Cumming does.

The county buys most of its untreated water from the city, as well as some treated water.

Those agreements are set to expire in late May, unless the commission asks the city for an extension.

Commissioners Jim Boff and Todd Levent voiced opposition to delaying the deadline to renegotiate the contracts during discussion Tuesday.

Commissioner Pete Amos made the suggestion for the county to seek an extension.

Amos said city officials would like to negotiate the terms for water purchases in conjunction with talks on the service delivery strategy, which determines how the governments divide up services, and the split for the 1-cent local option sales tax, or LOST.

Levent said the commission should send a proposal to the city to get some feedback before postponing the deadline.

He presented a summary of his proposal, in which the county would pay less for treated water and lower its required minimum gallon purchase from the current contract.

Forsyth would also pay off its portion of the city’s water infrastructure, assuming it also received ownership of that percentage, Levent said.

One resident agreed with the minority of the board and implored commissioners not to extend the current contract.

Hal Schneider addressed the commission during Thursday’s public comments.

“Extending the existing contract until October would cost the county residents about $200,000 per month, or $1 million total, over what it would cost if Commissioner Levent’s proposal were implemented,” Schneider said.

His figures came from Levent’s cost-savings estimates of the county opening its own treatment plant in July, which will enable it to finish more water on its own for less expense.

He said the reasons to extend negotiations didn’t make sense, stating water plays a small role in service delivery and no role in the LOST split.

“The only reason I can come up with for extending the existing contract,” Schneider said, “is so that certain commissioners on this board will not have to be held accountable to the voters in July when they vote in favor of a contract that is good for the city and bad for the county.”

Three seats on the commission — those held by Bell, Boff and Tam — are up for election this year. All three incumbents have drawn at least one challenger in the Republican primary on July 31.