It was the consensus among community officials a proposed study of four city water systems should encompass Habersham County as a whole, instead of only a few municipalities.
This was expressed at the Habersham Archway Partnership Executive Committee’s regular meeting Wednesday.
The intended purpose of the initial proposed study, conducted by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, was to allow officials in Baldwin, Cornelia, Demorest and Mt. Airy to explore options related to potential cooperation in municipal water withdrawal.
“We’re looking at the four cities who are the primary water/sewer providers here in the community, so this would be a multi-municipality project as opposed to just one area,” said Sue Chapman, coordinator of operations for Archway Partnership.
The CVIOG will also examine the legal authority and governance structure of existing water and sewer authorities in order to evaluate their potential as possible vehicles for intergovernmental collaboration.
“The goal, as I understood it, was to have those [cities] try to work together to strengthen, if you will, their requests from a regulatory standpoint, but also try to increase potential efficiency in terms of investments that might be made in the future, [concerning] water and sewer infrastructure,” said Ted Baggett, manager of the CVIOG assistance program.
He said a final written report would be provided to participating municipalities summarizing research, including comprehensive information on the issues identified. However, the report would not include engineering analysis nor recommended rate schedules for water and sewer service provision.
Baggett said the scope of work would begin upon approval of the proposal, with the final report to be submitted no later than a deadline of Oct. 15.
Chapman said the study, at a fixed cost of $24,500, would be funded using dues paid by Archway’s funding partners.
“That’s how we pay for any of the big projects we do,” she said. “The money goes toward salaries and projects and travel; things that go into making Habersham Archway work.”
“It seems like it’s been a discussion point for a long time. It certainly seems like from a cost standpoint, it’s favorable, and I don’t know where you’re going to get more expertise than this,” said Committee Chairman Mike Mixon.
“So how come only some of the water and sewer providers are listed in the study, not all the municipalities that provide water and sewer?” asked Clarkesville Mayor Terry Greene. “I thought that was our goal from the beginning, was to have the comprehensive study or the entire county’s water system – not just four water providers.”
“Well, in some regard, I’m open to changing it to being as comprehensive or as narrow as requested,” Baggett said.
Demorest Mayor Rick Austin said he felt it was “pertinent” for the city of Clarkesville to be involved in the study.
“A study like this is going to be a great credence to Habersham County in the future in terms of how we cooperate intergovernmentally, and it’ll help out the community in very substantial ways, in my opinion,” Austin said.
Habersham County Commissioner Natalie Crawford expressed concern the county commission, too, should be involved.
“Given that Habersham funds the water and sewerage authority for the county, I think we need a seat at the table, as well,” Crawford said. “Not so much because we want to get back in the water business, but so that we can support the municipalities in the way that we shape our water to the nth degree moving forward.”
Mt. Airy councilman Ray McAllister suggested Habersham’s smaller municipalities be included in the comprehensive study, as well.
“To me, if you don’t include Alto, all the small cities; you really need to know what’s going on [on their end], what they’re capable of doing, what we’re capable of doing,” etc. he said.
“I don’t think anybody should be left out. It should be all or nobody,” Greene added.
The committee agreed to move forward with the study, pending Baggett consult with Archway Professional Rick Story to broaden the study’s scope to be more comprehensive.
“Honestly, I think it’s great,” Mixon said… “Just a countywide project that could have a lot of benefits.”
In other business, the committee:
• Heard a first draft of the Scenic Corridor Management Plan was submitted to Clarkesville Main Street Manager Mary Beth Horton and was currently under review by the Soque Scenic Byway committee. Crawford advised another public meeting is planned for August;
• Heard an update regarding the pending Baldwin Farmers Market;
• Heard an update from Wade Rhodes, Habersham Chamber of Commerce board chairman, regarding the Great Promise Partnership Initiative;
• Heard an update from Story regarding the Mt. Airy Schoolhouse Project;
• Heard an update from Greene regarding a Health Work Group survey at the recent Mountain Laurel Festival;
• Heard a Habersham Archway 2015 Memorandum of Understanding had been issued to funding partners for approval;
• Heard from Demorest councilman Jerry Harkness a request on behalf of the Demorest City Council for a compact design of a recycling center to be implemented downtown;
• Heard from Chapman a Habersham Archway Partnership 2014 Work Plan update;
• Heard the committee’s next meeting is scheduled from 4:30-6 p.m. July 9 at Piedmont College, Demorest.