Representatives from the city of Midway and the Liberty County Development Authority and their respective attorneys met Friday to discuss the manner in which water and wastewater usage rates and connection fees are charged. The city and development authority have an intergovernmental agreement in place to share water and sewer infrastructure. The authority operates an industrial park in Midway and the Tradeport East Business Park adjoining Midway’s city limits.
At the start of the meeting, each side’s attorney affirmed that nothing said in conversation would be considered binding. Midway hired Brunswick attorney James Coppage last year to handle all negotiations with the LCDA. County Attorney Kelly Davis is representing the development authority.
The two governmental entities are working to settle a long-running dispute over billing, specifically regarding how the charges are calculated.
“The LCDA and the city of Midway are up-to-date on paying one another on our monthly usage charges,” Midway Director of Finance Gwendolyn Lowe said. “The city is billing them (development authority) for sewer/wastewater, and they are billing the city for water used. Other outstanding amounts will be settled by a settlement agreement.”
“We are just trying to come to some type of agreement with all the issues we have, including water and wastewater and payment of bills. And everyone is just trying to be sure the other is being treated fairly. We are trying to work in good faith with one another,” Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington said.
Both Washington and Coppage said engineers from Midway and the development authority have been tasked to engage a “neutral” water/wastewater expert. This expert will advise each group of “what is usual and customary for this type of government-to-government relationship as regards to water/wastewater rates,” Coppage said.
Davis told those assembled at the meeting he’d like to see bulk rates established, and if that isn’t acceptable, then at least base rates on peak usage of water and sewer. Davis said it is not “appropriate” for Midway to charge the LCDA connection fees according to the square footage of industrial-park tenants’ spaces, some of which are large warehouses.
“The city’s position is that LCDA must pay the same ‘tap-in fees’ (capital recovery costs standard in every jurisdiction) as the residential customers, which is consistent with Midway’s utility ordinance,” Coppage said. “The ordinance has been updated since the original IGA (intergovernmental agreement), but it is argued that under any interpretation, LCDA must pay tap-in (connection) fees. Typically, a large building means lots of sewage use.”
Coppage said the development authority has said it is willing to pay the connection fees, but “has asked for a different mechanism for determining tap-in fees because the LCDA is paying the costs for its tenants located at the industrial-development site.”
Davis contends that because the LCDA, like Midway, is a governmental entity that also serves the community, it should have a different rate plan.
Carmen Cole, director of finance and administration for the authority, said the LCDA had questioned how bills were calculated “from the beginning.” Cole said Midway had made no mention of charging connection fees when the original intergovernmental agreement was made. Both governmental agencies have carried charges on their books for the services each provided the other, some of which go back at least six years.
Cole explained that the development authority agreed back in 2004 to a wholesale rate for sewer service to Tradeport East. Midway agreed to sell the authority 2,000 gallons of capacity for wastewater, she said. Then, a new agreement was signed in 2008 between Midway, Liberty County and the authority, ratifying the original agreement and increasing sewer capacity up to 2,500 gallons a day.
Cole said Midway owes the development authority more than $30,000 for an altitude valve that was installed at Midway Industrial Park per EPD requirements. She said the development authority did not charge the city a connection fee because LCDA used its water system as a backup and simply billed them monthly on usage. The cost to install the valve was more than $60,000, she said, and Midway was asked to pay half.
Lowe said the total charge to the LCDA for sewer-connection charges, based on square footage per the city ordinance, is $229,625.
Bill Powell, formerly with the Georgia Rural Water Association, had advised Midway that fees could be calculated based on peak water and wastewater flows.
Powell offered officials a recalculated amount of $73,125 for connection fees, based on flow. He added in his calculations that the charge would increase to $87,526.86 if Midway charges 3 percent interest per year for six years.
Davis said that charging the authority full connection fees, based on the city’s ordinance, could hamper the LCDA’s efforts to offer incentives that would entice potential industries to the park. Midway officials countered that the city must be able to recover costs for infrastructure repair and maintenance. Each governmental entity agreed to report back to their respective board and council members before resuming negotiations.