The relationship between Lula and Hall County is in the toilet.
On Friday, the East Hall municipality turned to advertising in its running dispute with the county over sewer service. The city of Lula took out a full-page advertisement in Friday’s edition of The Times ripping the county as “government at its worst” because of the county’s plans for expanding its own sewer service around Lula coupled with the county’s proposed tax increase this year.
City officials confirmed that Lula placed the ad, which is labeled as “No. 1 of 4.” The first ad cost Lula $1,825. A second ad is already in the works but was not provided to the reporting staff at The Times.
Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said the ad was placed at the direction of the Lula City Council.
“The ad, without question, is supported by the facts,” Bergin said on Friday. “Now, would I perceive it to be popular? Probably not, but the truth of the matter is that we’ve worked diligently to try to work to some resolution and haven’t gotten the first opportunity.”
The ad blasts county government for allegedly “proposing to eliminate the City of Lula’s Waste Treatment Facility (a loss of over 8 million tax payer dollars) by building additional sewer infrastructure around the Lula Facility.”
Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley responded to the ad in a statement to The Times.
“Hall County will continue to work in a professional, courteous manner with all of its municipalities in an effort to provide the highest level of service to Hall County citizens while remaining responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” she said. “As always, County officials are available to address citizens’ concerns, and we welcome any questions or comments citizens may have regarding this issue or any other matter.”
Lula and other municipalities argue that the county has gone back on its agreements by developing its own sewer system independently of smaller cities.
Buford Mayor Phillip Beard said he is standing with Lula and is flat-out calling the county “greedy.”
“They want to take Lula’s little old corner of the county away from them,” Beard said of the county. “They got some contractual obligation up there and I understand Lula’s going to sue them.”
Beard said he thinks Buford, Lula and Braselton will stand together and that at least one of the other smaller cities will close ranks to send the service delivery strategy agreement to arbitration, where “somebody else can decide who’s right and who’s wrong.”
The ad says Hall County taxpayers are spending $10 million on the infrastructure and that it represents a “duplication of services” forbidden by state law.
“Whether the Hall County Commissioners end goal is to simply to wield power (sic), or something more sinister, remains to be seen,” the ad states.
Bergin said that when the county decided to continue investing in its own sewer system, Lula officials tried to discuss the issue with the county and had been “unsuccessful with doing that with the elected officials” for months.
But Lula officials recently met with Scott Gibbs and Jeff Stowe, two members of the Hall County Board of Commissioners. The meeting didn’t yield any changes on the sewer situation, Bergin said. Gibbs could not be reached on Friday.
“From that meeting, although it was cordial, there was no (progress),” he said. “Actually, they proposed that they’d sell us back the capacity they originally purchased in 2006 and that they were going in a new direction regardless of tax dollars they had spent up till then.”
Beard said that what the county is doing is building a sewer system on top of Lula’s to the detriment of taxpayers.
“How can they go out there, break a contract they’ve had several years with Lula, and go over the top of them and build a line,” the outspoken mayor said. “Greed, that’s all it is.”
Ultimately, Beard said that if elected officials waste enough money, somebody is going to put them out of office.
“It may take one term, it may take two terms, but folks will catch up with you,” he said.
Times reporter Carlos Galarza contributed to this article.