Bob Rychel, manager of Planning Programs for the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, facilitated the meeting and began by suggesting attendees focus on issues that will realistically come up in the next five years although the service delivery plan covers the next 10.
He said, as far as the state is concerned, the city and county had an accepted plan. At the previous meeting, a map was marked with the areas currently serviced by each entity and submitted to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs as the service delivery strategy for Jones County.
Gray Mayor Pro Tem Loretta Lipsey said she was under the impression that the city and county had a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ and whoever was closest to the customer needing water or sewer would provide it.
County Administrator Mike Underwood said he did not remember that agreement, and Councilman Benny Gray said he thinks the whole group agreed to it at the last meeting to meet the deadline for the service delivery strategy.
“I remember we had problems when it came to who would provide service to the area of the bypass. I think we thought we had to continue working, and now we find out what we submitted was acceptable,” Underwood said. “The squabble begins when there is a new area.”
Councilman David Tufts asked if the agreement could be made to allow the closest to the customer to provide the service, and Underwood said the county is running water lines in several areas, and the bypass area is one that concerns the county.
“We have problems with some of our extensions because we are cut off and would have to run through areas being serviced by the city. It becomes a problem when every time we try to do something we ruffle feathers,” the administrator explained.
City Superintendent Decius Aaron said the issue was any additional water lines beyond Lynn Haven Nursing Home affected the city’s water pressure because it drew from the water tank at the Government Center.
Commission Board Chairman Preston Hawkins said the county knows it has to put a tank in that area regardless. He said the water line to a Bradley residence and Bradley Baptist Church was the only one that would be run until a tank can be put there to stabilize water pressure.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s all for one. You’ve got the sewer, and we have the water. We need to work together,” Hawkins stated.
Louie Lashley, a citizen in attendance, told the officials that he pays taxes in the city and the county, and he is already disappointed in what he is hearing from them.
“I want to challenge the city and county to stop looking just 10 years ahead and look further in the future. We need to look at consolidating some of these services and maybe we can qualify for funds so you can serve the people who elected you,” Lashley said. “You need to show some visionary thinking because this discussion has been going on for years.”
Gray Mayor Gus Wilson said he believes the city and county will do the right thing. He said the city and county need a working relationship so the citizens do not suffer.
“We need to do whatever it takes to make this work. Jones County and Gray will go through another growth spurt, but right now we cannot support industry,” he said.
Underwood pointed out that, when the City of Gray grows, Jones County grows.
“Jones County doesn’t lose anything when the city grows. We are working toward a common goal,” he noted.
Engineer Tim Ingram said the design for installing water lines for Creekside subdivision is done and now the county is seeking funding for a water tank at Henderson Road. He said three new well sites have been identified with one of the wells generating two million gallons of water per day. He said the long-range plan is a waterline to back up the Haddock Water system.
Ingram said a standpipe taken from the entrance to the industrial park will be installed in the Bradley area.
Aaron said a pressing issue is getting a waterline out Highway 18 as an alternate feed for the subdivisions of Hudson Plantation and Trotters Ridge and Dames Ferry Elementary. He said another project is running parallel lines on the other side of the road on Gray Highway to ensure that city water customers will have water in case of a main break.
Underwood said he attended the utilities meeting for the bypass, and the bottom line is no utilities are going to be placed on the state right of way. He said the money will be appropriated for acquisitions of rights of way for the bypass in July, and once the rights of way are purchased, the state is committed.
Tufts said he is concerned about who will provide water and sewer to businesses on the bypass, and Lipsey suggested that businesses on the outside of the bypass be served by the county and those on the interior of the bypass be served by the city.
Hawkins said the city could treat the sewage and the county would pay, and Underwood suggested the city and county could enter into an agreement to buy sewer capacity. Selling the county sewer capacity would be a benefit to Gray in helping to pay for a new sewer treatment plant, which is in the planning stages by the city.
Wilson asked who would pay for the lines, and Underwood said that would be up to the provider.
Tufts said the conversation was closer to the direction he wanted to see and he felt real progress was being made.
“We can look at the bypass as a moneymaker for both of us,” he said.
“We’ve got to have you, and you need us,” he said.
Wilson said if the city and county do not work together, it is the citizens who suffer.
Lipsey suggested a resolution be drawn up and signed by the city and county to make sure the commitment is kept.
Commissioner Bert Liston said the bypass is one area the city and county can work together and asked about other areas. Aaron said the entities had worked together successfully to get water to the Highway 18 recreational complex.
Gray said the area businesses will be coming along Gray Highway from Macon to the City of Gray, and Underwood agreed. Wilson said working with the city for the sewer would be a better choice because Macon could cut off access at any time.
Lipsey again asked that the agreement between Jones County and Gray for services to the bypass be put in writing. The agreement would state the county would provide services to businesses on the exterior and the city would provide services to any businesses on the interior.
The city would also agree to sell the county sewer capacity in order to offer sewer services to all the businesses.
Rychel was tasked with drawing up the resolution. The manager said he is pleased that the officials are closer to agreeing than disagreeing, and he will be sure the county and city will each get a copy of the resolution.
“You can mark anything you don’t like, and we’ll go from there,” he said.
The city and county officials agreed to meet again May 6.