By Kent KingsleyLast week I addressed the history of the Lamar County water authority and how Barnesville tried to prevent its ‘birth.’ In addition, I discussed why it would be problematic for residents of the unincorporated part of the county if the water authority was transferred to Barnesville. Today I’d like to propose three alternatives that would allow Lamar to keep control of the water authority and its own future.First, I recommend we do nothing. That’s right, nothing. The water authority is not in default and won’t be for a number of months, according to the water authority. What happens when or if there is a default? The county will be asked to make up the shortfall in the payments. What happens if the county does not? The answer is that we don’t know.Would the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority foreclose? It possibly could. Might GEFA take over operation? It possibly could. We don’t know. GEFA might write the debt down or renegotiate the terms so the water authority could meet them. We just don’t know. If we don’t know, why are we taking such drastic measures now?A second possible course of action is to ask for special legislation to hold a binding referendum to consolidate Barnesville and the county. Radical? Not really, there are numerous examples where this has been done successfully: Columbus, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla., are two examples. I’ve lived in both places and it seems to be working well.Think of the savings by eliminating duplication of services and personnel. The water authority would cease to exist and the consolidated government would operate the system as one system. All residents would be able to hold elected officials accountable and all citizens could have input about water bills and service.Thirdly, and I must add, the least best solution is for the county government to dissolve the authority and take over the operation. The county could sell the building and use current facilities to house a water department. I fully understand the commission would have to raise property taxes if it operated the water system. I’ve heard two mills are estimated. I don’t know what it would take, hopefully less if the commission found ways to reduce the budget in other areas. The future of Lamar hinges on water. To decide not to control that future is too great a price to pay.I’ve never advocated a property tax increase in my life, not when I served on the commission, or before, or since. I also understand many will disagree with raising taxes, nonetheless, I believe times will get better in the future and now is not the time to mortgage our future by giving away our county water system.Ronald Reagan once said in Berlin, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” My advice to our county commission is, “Commissioners, tear up this agreement with Barnesville.”
Part II: Should Barnesville control the future of Lamar County?
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