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Should Barnesville control the future of Lamar County

BY KENT KINGSLEY The answer to that question is a resounding no and our county elected officials should do everything within their power to prevent this from occurring. What am I referring to? I’m referring to the transfer of Lamar County’s water system to Barnesville in exchange for the county assuming the cost for operating the library. First, a bit of background/history of how we got to where we are today. In 1999 or 2000 the county was suffering from a sustained drought. The county received numerous phone calls about failed wells and citizens asking if county water would ever be available. The legislature some years earlier enacted a water authority for the county and all that was necessary was for the commission to activate the authority, which it did. Very early in the process the Barnesville government voiced concerns, believing only Barnesville should be in the water business. These concerns by the city went so far that the city and the county spent thousands of dollars in legal fees until the city relented and signed an agreement to sell water to the county. At that point the county went full bore into developing a water system for the county residents. The county water authority was progressing nicely until the economic downturn, particularly the downturn in construction of new homes in the county. The fairly rapid growth in homes in the early to mid 2000s was the basis for many long term decisions the water authority made. No one had a crystal ball to know the future and the economic downturn led the authority to its current difficult financial position. Why is this proposed solution a bad idea for Lamar County? First and foremost the future growth and development of the county will be in the hands of politicians county residents cannot vote for or hold accountable for their decisions. That just doesn’t pass the common sense test. That is not to imply the city government of Barnesville wants bad things for the county, I don’t mean that at all. It will always be concerned first with the interests of Barnesville and that is only natural. This would be similar to turning our school system over to the Pike County board of education. I’m sure they’re honorable people too, but will the needs and concerns of Lamar County be first in their thoughts and deeds? Of course they won’t be. The second reason to say no is the county would assume the library and its $190,000 budget. In 1990 or 2000 the county and the city had to negotiate services, particularly services provided by both governments. I’ll spare the long and tortured details, but the final agreement was the county would assume sole responsibility for recreation, the city would assume sole responsibility for the library and the county gave the city several jail cells so they wouldn’t have to pay to keep city detainees. The agreement was fair to both parties. It made sense for the county to provide recreation to all county residents, and the city which exists to provide a higher level of service for those who live there should provide library services. The county does not have the revenue sources a city has and frankly couldn’t afford a library 10 years ago. The county’s finances are in poorer shape today than 10 years ago. Kelly Hughes runs a great library; I would hate to see it close in this era of reduced resources. A third reason this idea is very bad is the effect it will have on the county code and building codes. Jay Matthews was quoted in last week’s Herald Gazette, ‘There would be no change in county water rates, sewerage rates would not be charged and the policy allowing hook-ups in the county to be voluntary would remain in place.’ A reading of the proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the county says completely the opposite. To paraphrase the MOU, the city will have the sole authority in all aspects of the water system. Bottom line, the city will do as it sees fit. After all, it doesn’t make sense that it would continue the same policies and continue to lose money. Kent Kingsley is a former chairman of the Lamar County Board of Commissioners.

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