County officials are promising the residents of South Hall’s Belmont community water service, even if they have to break a three-year agreement with the city to do it.
Four county commissioners voted on Thursday to expedite building water lines to homes in the Belmont community near the Jackson County line, where many residents’ wells have gone dry.
The action authorizes county officials to use revenues from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to extend water service to residents on Belmont Highway, Mabery Road, Talmo Road and McEver Lake Road. It also requires Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department, which operates the municipal water supply in much of the county and would be responsible for the lines once they were built, to reimburse the county for construction costs in 2012.
If the city has a problem with the decision, county officials say they will take their business to Jackson County where the rates and connection fees are cheaper.
Commissioner Ashley Bell, whose district comprises Gainesville, did not vote on the measure because he was not yet at the meeting.
Gainesville Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall said the county commissioners’ decision is not only a breach of a 2006 agreement but it is also a violation of a state law that restricts local governments from duplicating services.
Gainesville and Hall County officials agreed in January 2006 to consolidate water systems. The agreement called for the city to take over maintenance and construction of all water lines in the county, Randall said.
The city utility cannot currently afford to extend the water lines to the residents of Belmont and on the city utility’s schedule, the community is not in line to receive water service until 2012, Commissioner Bobby Banks said. The city utility has started designing the system, however, according to county Public Works Director Ken Rearden.
Under the agreement, if residents needed water service in unincorporated areas of the county in a faster time frame than the city could accommodate or afford, then the county would pay for the construction and dedicate the lines to the city, Randall said.
County commissioners made no mention of the 2006 agreement — which had been signed by three of them — at Thursday’s meeting. The four commissioners present focused only on the immediate need to provide water to Belmont.
Commission Chairman Tom Oliver asked one Belmont resident, Larry Nix, to address the board. Nix said Belmont residents had been trying to get water service to their area since 1968.
"We have struggled and begged and pleaded and moaned and groaned..." Nix said.
Nix said that some Belmont residents have had to sell their cattle and move horses to other property where water is accessible. Others, Nix said, are hauling water into their homes with jugs.
"When we get in situations like that, we need to do something, do something now," Nix said.
Banks, who represents the South Hall community, said the fact that people in Hall County were living without water was pathetic.
Oliver said if the county had to, it would ask Jackson County to build the water lines in the area. Oliver said the county’s first move would be to work with the city to get the water lines installed, but also instructed county staff to get price quotes from the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority.
"I don’t think the people who are carrying their water in with jugs really care about House Bill 489," Oliver said.