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Gainesville agreement on Glades won't raise water fees

Agreement with Hall puts full financial burden on county, utilities director says

POSTED: November 20, 2013 12:28 a.m.

Gainesville residents may not pay water rate increases to help fund the planned Glades Reservoir in Hall County, but they could still wind up on the hook down the road.

Gainesville City Council approved a joint resolution between it and the county Tuesday night after language supporting the project and the county’s successful application for state funding was moderated.

Glades, which is estimated to cost $130 million, is planned as an 850-acre reservoir in the Upper Chattahoochee River Basin of North Hall that could provide 30 million to 40 million gallons of water per day to Northeast Georgia residents.

Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall presented the advantages of the new version at the council meeting, saying the agreement gets Hall for the first time to accept full financial responsibility for the $130 million project. The city agreed to support and continue to supply information to help the permitting process, which Randall said it’s done for years.

The agreement also states the city has reviewed the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority application, which won’t increase water rates or fees on Gainesville water customers.

“Through the history of this reservoir, which has been lengthy, it always comes back that somebody has been expecting (the City Council) to raise (its) hands to raise the rates on all the customers of the water system, both inside and outside the city limits of Gainesville,” Randall said. “This is the first time we really have in writing that that’s not what’s being asked of (the council).”

The original agreement addressed the water rate and fee issues, but offered stronger support by saying the city “has reviewed and concurs with Hall County’s application to (GEFA) for state finance assistance, since the application will not require water rate or fee increases on Gainesville’s water customers.”

Glades made the short list for up to $40 million from the Governor’s Water Supply Program earlier this month. The Hall County application asked for slightly more than $14.5 million, but the final amount will be negotiated with GEFA and officials with the Environmental Protection Division, said GEFA spokesman Shane Hix.

The original application included a capacity fee and rate increases, but a later version took those out and added a $70 annual fee to each of the 75,000 taxed parcels of land in the county. Hall officials have said, and the application states, it’s one financing method being considered. Gainesville provides water to most of Hall County.

There’s not a lot the city can do if the county moves forward with that fee, Randall said.

“Hall County’s going to do what Hall County’s going to do,” he said. “Frankly, it’s Hall County’s decision if they’re going to raise taxes, they can raise taxes.”

The vote was 4-1, with Councilwoman Ruth Bruner opposed.

Lauren Joy, an associate attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, spoke in opposition to the joint agreement.

“It’s not clear to me what benefit Gainesville is getting from this resolution,” she said after the meeting. “Instead Hall County is gaining Gainesville’s support on the record, which I think the City Council should have been a little more reticent to throw their support behind the project with this kind of a resolution.”

Bruner said there’s still a lot of questions about the county’s business plan for the reservoir.

“I appreciate the staff going back and changing the wording,” she said. “But I think there’s still a lot of just basic problems with whether the reservoir is needed and who’s going to pay for it.”

The modified resolution goes back to the Hall County Board of Commissioners for consideration.


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