Hall County government officials say they are confident they will get a Service Delivery Strategy agreement done with the municipalities before a June 30 deadline set by the state.
Failure to reach an agreement — established by state law almost 20 years ago to “minimize inefficiencies resulting from duplication of services and competition between local governments” — could result in the county and cities losing out on state grants, loans or becoming ineligible for permits.
The parties are looking to amend an agreement that’s been in the books since 2004. The agreement delineates districts responsible for the distribution of water and sewer services in unincorporated and incorporated areas of Hall County.
With time running out, county spokeswoman Katie Crumley indicated that any future meetings with the cities should be determined soon.
“Yes, we are confident we will reach an agreement by the June 30th deadline,” Crumley said, when asked whether the county and cities could agree on time, or resort to asking for an extension from the state.
City of Lula officials are less confident that a deal can get done, unless the county makes concessions. Lula City Council has threatened a lawsuit against the county for alleged breach of contract over a sewer agreement they signed in 2006.
Lula officials claim the county encouraged the city to undertake construction of a wastewater treatment plant to serve future development along the Ga. 365 corridor. The agreement allowed the county to purchase 100,000 gallons per day capacity from the city’s plant.
However, a few months ago Hall County embarked on a sewer project of its own. The county is reportedly spending more than $3 million to service a parcel that Lula claims it can provide sewer to at a fraction of what the county is paying.
Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin argues that what the county is doing goes against the letter and spirit of the Service Delivery Strategy agreement.
“If you’re a taxpayer right now, you already have an infrastructure in place and the county wants to spend more money,” Bergin said. “Just think about that. To duplicate what you’re already doing and increase the cost by 39 percent.”
Bergin recently distributed copies of Hall County’s sewer and sewage disposal fee schedule to show that the county’s sewer rates are 39 percent more than what Lula charges.
“There’s a proposal by the county to raise property taxes by 26 percent,’ Bergin continued. “There’s a pattern here you got to begin to see. A 26 percent increase, 39 percent increase on (sewer) rate … we all represent the taxpayer. Somehow that gets lost, and it’s not lost on the city.”
The SDS has to be approved through a resolution by Hall County, Gainesville — as the largest city in the county with population of more than 9,000 — and by 50 percent of the smaller cities with populations of 500 or more.
The smaller cities meeting the population criteria are Lula, Buford, Braselton, Clermont, Oakwood and Flowery Branch. A seventh municipality in Hall County — Gillsville — has a population of less than 300.
At least three of the six cities would have to approve a resolution, along with the county and Gainesville, for the SDS to be amended and submitted to the state for approval.