PTC Council seeks options to control city sewer system

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City Manager Jon Rorie. Photo/Ben Nelms.

The Peachtree City Council last week set in motion the likely takeover of the independent Water and Sewer Authority.

Sometime in the next several weeks, the council will be presented with at least two versions of suggested local legislation that will either put it in charge of the sewer system or give it veto power over WASA board decisions about growing the system outside the city.

The conflict arose when WASA earlier this year asserted it had the power to unilaterally decide whether and when to extend its sewer lines outside city limits. The city responded that its contract with WASA prevented that action without prior approval of the City Council.

City Manager Jon Rorie on July 20 presented the findings of McDonough attorneys Andrew Welch and Warren Tillery. Rorie said the attorneys responded to the question, “Whether WASA can extend sewer service beyond the corporate limits of Peachtree City without the approval by the City Council.”

“Not presently. WASA has the power to make such extensions without approval by the City Council; but it has contractually agreed to refrain from exercising such power without first obtaining City Council approval in exchange for Peachtree City serving as a surety for WASA’s revenue bonds,” Welch and Tillery said. “So at least until those bonds are repaid, WASA is required to obtain approval from the City Council prior to extending its sewer system beyond the corporate limits of Peachtree City.”

The bonds will not be paid-off until the mid-2020s.

Rorie noted four options for the council to consider.

• Option 1 would be to consider petitioning the local legislative delegation to amend WASA’s enabling legislation to expressly require City Council approval of extra-territorial expansion.

• Option 2 could be to amend the enabling legislation to reconstitute the WASA board with a majority or all of its members constituting the membership of the City Council.

• Option 3 would be to amend the WASA enabling legislation so as to fold WASA into Peachtree City as a department.

• Option 4, according to Welch and Tillery, is the least durable option. It is one that would have the city enter into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with WASA. IGAs, the attorneys noted, can be terminated.

Asked if any of the several WASA board members present at the meeting wanted to comment on the presentation, only John Dufresne responded, asking if the report addressed other cities connecting their systems to the WASA system.

“You’re talking about expanding the service outside (the city),” said Councilman Mike King. “This would go on forever.”

King asked that a public hearing on the matter be held in the short-term.

The brief discussion by council members had Councilman Phil Prebor and Mayor Vanessa Fleisch preferring Options 1 and 2, with Fleisch saying she did not see making WASA a city department, and with Prebor agreeing.

A continuation of the discussion is expected to occur at the Aug. 17 council meeting.

The issue of WASA expanding service outside city limits has been brewing for some time. The most current manifestation of the impasse between the two parties began with an April 18 letter signed by Chairman Bill Holland, with input from the entire board.

WASA essentially drew a line in the sand with the statement that, “The PCWASA Board of Directors believes that the citizens of Fayette County and Peachtree City would be better served if the authority remained independent of the city or county.”

The letter maintained that WASA since its inception included service areas not always confined to Peachtree City, specifically stating that when formed by the Georgia General Assembly, its formation as an independent, autonomnous, public corporation defined that service area as “Peachtree City and its environs.”

In response, the council maintained that it has legitimate input on WASA’s service decisions due to past bonds to the authority for which the city was a signatory.

“We’ve got lawyers disagreeing on whether or not the City Council has the authority currently to allow capacity to go outside the city limits. It’s going on and on,” King said, noting that what is happening is not a new issue for Peachtree City.

“I’m hearing a lot of movement that says we need to bring WASA under control. Well, that’s emotion, and that’s not being very objective about what needs to be done,” said King.

Mayor Vanessa Fleisch at the May 2 meeting agreed.

“Because of some of the recent developments, I think it’s time now that we look at WASA as well, and its relationship with the city,” she said.

It was then that Rorie soon initiated what resulted in the outside look at the issue that culminated with the report from Welch and Tillery.