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Authority offers to buy water system

Mayor balks at latest proposal

POSTED: November 6, 2013 4:00 a.m.

In their latest round of talks about a new service agreement, the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority has made Dawsonville an offer it's unlikely to accept - sell the authority the city's system.

"If they take our offer, we would take over all operation and maintenance and full responsibility of their infrastructure," said Brooke Anderson, general manager of the authority, which provides service to much of Dawson County. "We would consolidate into one entity.

"We wouldn't have two water and sewer providers in the county. There wouldn't be this continual, contractual, territorial fight that happens every 18 months. We'd like to get away from that. We believe we can do it."

But Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan said officials aren't interested in parting with the infrastructure.

"We have a very good system. Our rates are much lower than Etowah," he said. "Our system is efficient. We offer excellent service and are responsive on a personal level to our customers."

The city and Etowah have had a service agreement since 1989. At the time, the city was not able to provide enough water for its residents.

The agreement, which established a perimeter around the original city boundaries, was amended in 1990, '94 and 2006 as water and sewer infrastructure grew.

The city submitted a proposal to Etowah in May to renegotiate billing plans, as well as the current service area.

According to Grogan, this is not the first time the authority has offered to buy the city's water and sewer infrastructure.

"They've done this every time we've tried to talk to them about increasing our scope as far as new customers and taking care of the customers within the city," he said.

However, authority officials counter that this is the first time they have seriously presented such an offer to the city.

"We've talked about it a lot, but we've never formally presented an offer," Anderson said. "We felt that, while everything we've discussed is certainly workable, this [deal] is also workable if the city has a desire."

Under the proposal, the city would receive $4 million at closing and $200,000 per year for 30 years. The deal would not include the city's existing debt structure.

"It's difficult for us to address [the debt] specifically. We've taken a look at the 2013 operating budget for the city," said Linda Dunlavy, Etowah's attorney. "We've estimated the city's debt structure for the water system is about $200,000 a year."

Grogan said during a recent meeting that, while the city would not make a definite decision at the time, a deal was unlikely.

"It makes me feel good that they made an offer," he said. "It lets me know we have something worthwhile. For that reason, we want to hang onto [the infrastructure]."

Anderson said the offer was sincere and that authority officials felt it would be in everyone's best interest.

"We feel like it's a generous offer," he said. "Holistically, that's the best answer for all of the citizens of Dawson County, inside and outside of the city limits. We're willing to work with the city on these terms of the agreement, but we believe $10 million is something worth considering."

Anderson also said that it shouldn't be solely up to the mayor to decide.

"The city council represents the citizens and we hope the citizens have an opportunity to hear the offer, form an opinion and express that to their elected officials," he said. "That $4 million up front provides a lot of options for the city. It would really help implement their downtown development. They could do a host of things that would be beneficial to the city."

The deal, according to the authority, would also not impact any of the city's current water dealings and would even alleviate some of the loans and grants the city has been seeking.

"When you look at any infrastructure improvements the city is working toward, those would fall on us with this deal. We would do whatever it takes to provide the service," Anderson said.

"In terms of the Calhoun Creek reservoir, that's an independent matter the city could continue to pursue or not pursue depending on what they want. That's a separate issue from owning, operating and maintaining their water system."

According to Grogan, the deal simply will not work for the city.

"We feel it would not be productive for a monopoly of services," he said. "Competition is what keeps the engine humming. We will only address the service area as we proposed to Etowah initially."

 

 

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