Talks over the potential acquisition by Hall County of Lula’s wastewater treatment plant will likely begin in January after Mayor-elect Jim Grier takes office Jan. 1.
City and county officials told The Times on Monday they are trying to schedule a first meeting sometime in mid-January.
Richard Higgins, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, said it made sense to wait until after the holidays and Grier takes office for negotiations to begin.
“They got a new mayor. Hopefully we’ll have a better relationship with them,” Higgins said. “We just have to wait and see.”
Grier, who defeated four-term incumbent Milton Turner last month, said he would approach any meeting with the county concerning the sewer plant with an open mind.
“The talks haven’t begun. There’s really nothing on the table, and so these meetings I think are just to understand what’s on everybody’s mind,” Grier said. “I’m very open to that. It’s one of those things I haven’t been brought up to speed just yet.”
Grier said he’s been meeting with Turner and City Manager Dennis Bergin to talk about some issues facing the city and things that need to be done. He said the potential sale of the sewer plant hasn’t been on the list of things he’s been briefed on.
Asked whether the wastewater plant represents an asset or liability to the city, Grier said realistically it’s both.
“It’s certainly a benefit to the city in some respects, and then of course it is an asset that needs to be controlled and treated within the regulations that we have to operate,” Grier said. “I think that best describes it as both an asset and a liability.”
Hall County first expressed interest in Lula’s wastewater treatment plant in a letter sent to Turner by Higgins in October.
“As a result of the recently completed and approved (service delivery agreement), Hall County and the City of Lula are required to enter into good faith negotiations to discuss the potential acquisition of the Lula Sewer System,” the letter read
Georgia law calls on counties and municipalities to file with the Department of Community Affairs a service delivery agreement in an effort to minimize the duplication of services to residents. Every municipality in Hall County signed the service delivery agreement except Lula.
Asked about the county’s overture to take over the city sewer plant, Turner said at the time that he did not think a deal would happen. However, he said it’s a decision that Lula City Council would have to make.
County spokeswoman Katie Crumley confirmed Monday that county staff and Lula city officials have been discussing tentative meeting dates. She said a specific date has yet to be set.
Higgins said that when Lula built its wastewater treatment plant, the county bought almost one-third of its capacity at that time. Lula built the sewer system at a cost of more than $9 million.
“We have never used that capacity,” Higgins said. “We’re just going to talk about it and see what develops.”