Midway City Council at its October meeting voted down a minor preliminary move toward settling its water and sewer dispute with the Liberty County Development Authority and engaged an attorney to handle dealings with the LCDA.
A committee with members representing both Midway and the authority had decided to ask for a waiver of almost $3,000 in late fees that the LCDA owed the city.
Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington told the committee she would present the matter to the city council, but at the Oct. 17 council meeting the waiver was rejected by a vote of 3-1. Mayor Pro Tempore Curtes Roberts, who made the motion to consider the matter, voted in favor.
Midway’s city attorney, Richard Braun, is an associate in the Hinesville law firm of Jones, Osteen and Jones, as is Kelly Davis, who is the attorney for the development authority and Liberty County. Braun recently recused himself from representing Midway in LCDA matters because the firm he works for also represents the authority, Washington said in the meeting.
The Midway-LCDA dispute dates back to 2006, according to Carmen Cole, director of finance and administration for the authority.
Midway has hired James Coppage, who formerly served as McIntosh County’s attorney, Washington said. He also has a solo law practice in Brunswick. After retaining Coppage, the council voted unanimously to have him handle all negotiations with the LCDA.
The dispute is rooted in Midway’s sharing of water and sewer infrastructure with the development authority, which operates an industrial park in Midway and the Tradeport East Business Park adjoining Midway’s city limits.
The water systems at Midway Industrial Park are interconnected with a special valve. When Midway’s water system needs maintenance or repair, it can draw water from the authority’s wells, and vice versa, Cole said after the meeting.
“It was a requirement by The Georgia Environmental Protection Division to have those two services hooked up for backups,” Cole said.
Since 2006, the two government units have carried charges on their books for the services provided to each other.
While the city sometimes taps the authority’s water supply near the industrial park, the authority uses city sewage services at Tradeport East, but a broken sewage valve complicated the city’s billing process, Cole said.
“Instead of them estimating the bills or not sending us bills, we started sending them our water bills or our water usage,” Cole said, explaining that sewage amounts typically are correlated to the amount of water consumed.
Current billing documents show the authority owes Midway $57,226.50 for sewer usage between April 2006 and July 2011, as well as more than $286,852.50 in impact fees.
Midway, in turn, owes the authority $52,857.70 for water services from March 2006 through August 2011 and for the installation of the altitude valve required by the EPD, Cole said.
But, Cole added, the $286,852 in impact fees never had been discussed previously.
“There’s been no discussion on an impact fee, ever,” Cole said.
Washington said it was common knowledge that the two entities shared water and sewer services and that the arrangement already had been in effect for years when she became mayor.
Cole said the LCDA made a good-faith payment of $12,000 in October 2009 in response to a request from former Midway Mayor Don Emmons.