Forsyth water contract issue may be headed to court

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VIDEO BY NYDIA TISDALE

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — After months of stalemate in water contract negotiations between the city and the county, Forsyth County Commissioners began closed-session discussions with their attorney to file a legal suit.

The legal action comes after a threat by the city to cut off the sale of raw water to the county by Oct. 1 and only allow the county to purchase finished water.

At the Sept. 6 regular meeting, commissioners went into a closed-door executive session to discuss the matter, but did not take any votes and are not allowed to talk about pending legal matters.

County resident Julian Bowan, of Cumming, said this is the best outcome of a situation that has dragged since the water contract expired in May.

Bowan raised public safety concerns due to pressure that could be potentially placed on the finished water facility owned by the city.

Forsyth County Tea Party Chair Hal Schneider said it’s already too late to take the issue to court because by the time it reaches a judge, the city’s Oct. 1 deadline would have already been met.

“I urge you to petition the judge for an injunction restricting the mayor from turning off the [raw] water on Oct. 1,” Schneider said.

Commissioners were unable to reach a decision on the ongoing water debate after a special called meeting on Aug. 30.

Terms of this water agreement were dictated by a 25-year contract between the city and the county.

When the contract expired in May, the two parties were left to craft a new agreement – a challenge they have not been able to overcome.

Talks were derailed in late May after Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt reneged on an agreement that both sides had earlier approved.

City staff members say they still have not found common ground on the official final contract.

When the county wanted to extend their May agreement until the end of the year, the Cumming City Council voted down that proposal.

Under the city’s threat, the county would be cut off from buying the less expensive raw water at 10 cents per 1,000 gallons and would only be able to buy the more expensive treated water at $2.43 per 1,000 gallons.

At their special called meeting, commissioners also agreed to pay two water invoices owed to the city of Cumming for water service provided since the expiration of their May contract.

Forsyth County Finance Department will pay the July 31, 2012 raw water bill of $29,781 and the August 6, 2012 finished water bill of $371,715 to the City of Cumming.

Under County Attorney Ken Jarrard’s recommendation, the board voted unanimously — Commissioner Pete Amos recused himself from the vote — to pay the bills, but make it clear to the city that the payment is being made under protest due to lack of agreement.

The county also has the right to challenge any future invoice by the city of Cumming.

“My simple statement to you is that we need an agreement of some kind,” Jarrard said.

ALSO AT THE REGULAR MEETING:

• Commissioners unanimously approved allowing wine tastings at places licensed to sell wine and malt beverages, but not places that sell distilled spirits. Four criteria items would have to be met. Wine tastings would have to occur in a separate room that is inaccessible from the remainder of the establishment. Tastings would be allowed only eight days per month. Wine tastings would be limited to two ounces per glass with each person limited to no more than eight ounces to be served per day. A posted sign alerting customers that a wine tasting is taking place must be posted in a visible location the day the tasting is to take place.

• Alcohol licenses were approved for Toscana Italian restaurant, 4090 Johns Creek Parkway in Suwanee, for applicant Michele L. Doyle; Murphy Express, 5415 Atlanta Highway, for applicant Alphaeus Knowles; Hop In No.16 Shell, 2310 Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Cumming, for applicant Akbar Bhamani; Chevron Foods, 7730 McGinnis Road in Alpharetta, for applicant Asim Hasani.

• Commissioners unanimously approved changes to the Forsyth County alcohol ordinance’s annual renewal process in order to simplify the process. Current license is issued for a calendar year with an Oct. 1 deadline for a renewal application, which leads to a public hearing in front of commissioners in late December. The change would allow staff to process the alcohol renewal application when there are no changes being made, said Tom Brown, director of planning and community development. In addition, criminal background checks would be required every other year instead of yearly.

• The application was withdrawn by Eastgate Church for a 29,000-square-foot worship facility with 197 parking spaces.

Shari Perkins contributed reporting to this article.

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