This is the second of a three-part series taking a look at issues that will face newly elected county commissioners.
Hall County and its cities have sparred, but like family, they have to work together whether they like it or not.
Over the last year, the Hall County Board of Commissioners has clashed with the Gainesville City Council over a number of things, and even the typically docile town of Clermont climbed into the ring to fight the county over the location of the sales tax-funded North Hall library.
The commissioners elected to the District 1 and District 3 seats will need to be ready to deal with a number of unsolved disagreements with cities and likely confront new ones.
Amy Henderson, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association, said final population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau will likely have many cities and counties grappling over SPLOST dollars.
“After each census count, that triggers renegotiation of the local option sales tax. The county and its cities are going to divide that up,” Henderson said. “That is probably going to be a big issue for cities and counties around the state.”
Henderson said issues between cities and counties, like those in Hall over the last few years, are common.
“These are things that come up from time to time. It’s just inherent in the way the process works,” Henderson said. “Tensions are going to flare sometimes, but I think there’s a great spirit of cooperation overall statewide.”
Hall County Administrator Charley Nix said he thinks many issues have escalated because of the economy.
“It really hasn’t been business as usual,” Nix said. “Our budgets are tight and we’re all having to scrutinize every penny.”
Hall County was voted out of the Joint Local Government Association in late April, a sign of the cities’ sentiments toward the county.
Asked at the time if the vote stemmed from recent conflicts with Hall County, Gainesville Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan answered, “possibly, yes.”
Flowery Branch City Councilman Chris Fetterman also said disagreements between city and county governments contributed to the move to remove them from the organization.
“I think the way Hall County treated the municipalities with a lot of broken promises ... they need a reality check,” Fetterman said at the meeting.
Recent issues include:
- Hall County’s decision to build the North Hall library at the same Nopone Road site as the North Hall park.
Clermont sued the county over what it described as an abuse of discretion with sales tax dollars. Clermont officials say the North Hall library was slated to be built in their city, but county officials maintain no official decision on the location was made until a Feb. 25 meeting at which the commissioners voted to build the library on Nopone Road.
- Hall has also disagreed with Gainesville and Oakwood over annexation, something Henderson said is a common dispute between cities and counties.
“Counties do not particularly want properties to be annexed into the city,” Henderson said.
In August 2009, Hall County publicly opposed the city of Gainesville’s plan to annex commercial properties in county islands along the city’s major corridors and held a public hearing for business owners to express their disapproval. City officials said they wanted to have more control over zoning near city limits.
- Gainesville and Hall County are still at odds over how to finance the Glades Reservoir project in North Hall. Nix said city and county staff are making progress in discussions.
Hall officials have said they need city-owned Cedar Creek Reservoir so they can sell water to other governments and help pay for the construction of Glades Reservoir as part of a system linked to Cedar Creek. Hall County holds the permit to withdraw water from Cedar Creek.
- The city and county also squabbled over a 2007 agreement regarding the old county jail in the city’s midtown area. The facility now houses the Corrections Corporation of America, a private detention center for immigration detainees. City officials were upset that the county signed a long-term agreement with the company. The city planned per the 2007 contract to buy the facility from the county and raze it as part of a midtown revitalization plan. County officials said the agreement was never signed by the city and it expired in 2008.
Henderson said many of the arguments between counties and cities have historical roots.
“That all goes back to the 1970s when state law was changed to allow counties to provide traditionally municipal services, water and sewer and things like that,” Henderson said. “With service delivery strategy, the areas you probably see the tension are water and sewer, recreation, and police and fire where the counties have gotten into those services.”
Nix said it will be important for any new commissioner to come in ready to learn about the issues at hand and recognize the common needs of the county and its cities.
“All the issues going on are pretty complex,” Nix said. “I’m hopeful we can find more room for assisting and helping and working in a more coordinated way.”