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Forsyth County agrees to mediation on water deal
Session with Cumming set for Oct. 16 to settle pair of disputes
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Forsyth County commissioners followed the lead of the Cumming City Council by agreeing Thursday night to enter mediation over the ongoing water contract dispute.

The commission voted 4-0, with Commissioner Pete Amos recused, to send a confirmation to the city that the mediation would be set for Oct. 16.

Commissioners also voted 5-0 to set mediation with the city over the local option sales tax split for Oct. 15.

Both disagreements will be mediated by former Georgia Chief Justice Norman Fletcher, with the fee split by an amount determined by attorneys for both governments.

The city council voted unanimously to do the same during its meeting Tuesday.

After the commission meeting, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the mediation sessions will be held in private since they are exempt from the state open meetings act.

Anything agreed upon during mediation, however, is not binding until approved in an open meeting, according to Jarrard.

Jarrard’s letter to City Attorney Dana Miles also states that the two governments “will need to find a suitable (neutral) venue for the mediation.”

The governments have not been able to agree on a new water contract since the previous one expired in May.

Forsyth has a permit allocation from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but no way to draw the water from Lake Lanier.

As a result, it purchases most of its untreated, as well as some treated, water from Cumming.

County commissioners recently appeared to be preparing to take the water dispute to court by discussing the issue in closed session under the “potential litigation” category.

On Thursday, the commission postponed a vote to seek a court injunction to halt the city from its plan to discontinue providing untreated water to the county if an agreement wasn’t reached.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt announced that intention in August, setting Oct. 1 as the deadline to sign a contract. Tuesday, the city extended that deadline to Oct. 31.

Commissioners postponed the vote on seeking a court injunction to Oct. 18, after mediation.

The governments will address the sales tax issue the day before working on the water contract dispute.

The 1-percent sales tax is designed to roll back property taxes, and stays in place for 10-year periods if a county and its cities, in this case only Cumming, agree to have a LOST and set the revenue split.

The tax split, which is based primarily on services provided, must be negotiated by the end of the year.

State laws set requirements for the process, and Forsyth County and Cumming did not meet the August deadline for direct renegotiation and so have entered the mediation phase.

In the current split, Forsyth County receives 85 percent and Cumming gets 15 percent.

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