Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt made his voice heard about the city’s potential water contracts with Forsyth County several hours before a town hall meeting on the issue.
During a press conference at city hall, Gravitt said he had some issues with some news reports on the potential contracts, which would replace the current deal that will expire May 31.
He said some media had referred to the situation as “a water war.”
“That’s certainly not the case,” he said. “If you’re involved in a war, it takes two parties … and we [in the city] haven’t been involved.”
Gravitt said he had shared with Commission Chairman Jim Boff the reasons why he wouldn’t attend the town hall meeting.
“There’s been no due diligence done by the board over there … they’ve talked about a lot of issues in reference to the water and most of the things you’ve read about have talked about treated water, but that’s only half right.”
He later said he believed the meeting would be “a bash Cumming night.”
To Gravitt, previous reports have not accurately portrayed the current deal. Most accounts have focused only on treated, or finished for drinking, water that the city supplies.
The city sells that water to the county for $2.43 per 1,000 gallons, but the mayor noted the city also sells raw, or untreated, water to the county for 10 cents per 1,000 gallons, as well as sewer capacity at a rate of $3 per 1,000 gallons.
“The city treated the county’s sewer last year for $249,000 total and that’s going into the $32 million treatment plant we have over there, so how long will it take to get the city’s revenue system built back up,” he said.
Gravitt also sought to clarify that the county commission has not presented any contract proposals to the city. He also wanted to make it clear that he and other municipal leaders have nothing against Forsyth officials or residents.
The county native did note, however, that the city has spent millions from its reserve fund budget to make water and sewer system upgrades, including a $17 million intake facility, to accommodate customers in both jurisdictions.
As a result, he said the city sent an invoice to the county seeking payment of $11.4 million for the county’s share of the facility “some months ago” but “haven’t heard a response back.”
“I think it’s time for the [water and sewer] customers of Cumming and Forsyth County to stop subsidizing and for the county to pay up,” he said.
In return for the $11.4 million, the county would get an allocation of up to 65 million gallons of water a day, he said.
Gravitt went on to mention other “options” that Forsyth could pursue. They included the Chattahoochee and Etowah rivers, if permits could be secured, or buying from Gwinnett County.
“There are a lot of options at hand, but none of them are financially feasible,” he said.
If a new deal isn’t established before the existing one expires, Gravitt indicated rates for Cumming water customers would likely rise, though he didn’t offer specifics.
But he is “optimistic to a certain extent” that the situation will be resolved. “It always comes down to the 11th hour and we get things worked out.”