At the December meeting of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, three commissioners demonstrated their willingness to continue to strategize behind the scenes and vote as an alliance rather than on the merit of a proposal.
In this case, Commissioner Craig Lutz developed his own sewage rate proposal rather than the board directing county staff to conduct a thorough and objective analysis. In the November public hearing held for those in the communities impacted, residents were appalled to learn that the proposal was final and that Lutz was unwilling to incorporate any feedback. One resident even shared with the audience that Lutz told him he had already lined up commissioners to vote for the proposal, so it was a done deal. There was disbelief at the sham of a public hearing.
In the following board meetings, residents spoke of their concerns about a proposal that would produce less revenue than today, given the current revenue is not covering the cost of the South Hall plant and the unfairness of the proposal that requires low volume users to pay two to three times the effective per ccf rate (100 cubic feet) of a high-volume user and the lack of a debt repayment plan. Residents from the Village at Deaton Creek presented a petition with over 600 signatures in opposition. The petition called for a fair and equitable sewage rate, the same message conveyed for four years.
Rather than listen to concerns, Lutz chose to review the water usage of each person signing the petition. He even shared the water usage of over 2,100 residents with others and publicly cited the usage of specific households in the board meeting. While the Gainesville water usage data is pertinent for the county to conduct a financial analysis, there is no justification for a commissioner to access, review and exploit the personal information of anyone.
Despite the public comment about the flaws in Lutz’s financial data, the revenue shortage, the misrepresentation of data and urging each commissioner to do due diligence, both Commissioners Ashley Bell and Scott Gibbs voted in favor of Lutz’s proposal, never appearing to seek the truth on the issues pointed out by the public. It is clear that Lutz wanted to win favor by lowering rates despite the financial consequence to the county.
So as Lutz indicated in November, it proved true that the approval by the alliance was a done deal before the first public hearing. This exemplifies what is wrong when those in power believe that they know what is best for us despite evidence to the contrary.
It is with great hope that the new leaders of Hall County will heed The Times’ call to act with wisdom and caution and learn from mistakes made by Bell, Gibbs and Lutz, and that in the future, all those on the board will do business in an open forum with respect to those whom they serve and will act based on the merit of any proposal, not personal agendas.