The longest topic was water and wastewater, when elected officials from Lowndes County and its cities, Valdosta, Lake Park, Dasher, and Hahira (but apparently not Remerton), gathered on neutral ground to discuss tax revenue allocation, in a public meeting. Curiously, the Chairman and the Mayors were not invited. It’s not clear whether omitting them helped or not. There was actually mention that growth close to existing services is better than sprawl.
Below are links to each WWALS video Gretchen took, with a few notes, followed by a WWALS video playlist. See also the meeting announcement.
Welcome by Commissioner Clay Griner
Video. Apparently this meeting was his idea.
Invocation and Pledge
Video. Directly in front of the camera is Thomas Lynn, reporter for the Valdosta Daily Times (VDT).
His report was published 5 February 2019, ‘In the same boat’: City, county hash out principles of cooperation: City, county hash out principles of cooperation.
The VDT chimed in with an Editorial, 7 February 2019, A few words about service delivery, which concludes:
You don’t want to be hamstrung by an eight- or nine-year-old agreement.
So, if it is not absolutely required by the state’s SDS mandate, don’t include it. If it is required, word it as broadly as possible.
Narrow the talks, stick with the essentials and get this done.
We have one more word for you.
Introductions and Goals
Video. Clay Griner asked for each attendee to introduce themselves and say why they were there.
Valdosta. Two said their names; then Griner asked them to go back and say why.
- Tim Carroll (Valdosta District 5) “First of all, I didn’t have a choice. I’m here to represent the people who elect us.” He continued about wanting to improve on the mediation process.
- Eric Howard (Valdosta District 4) Howard: to reach some resolution,
- Andy Gibbs (Valdosta District 6) to find common ground to agree on.
Lake Park. Two more introduced themselves inaudibly, before County Clerk Paige Dukes asked for a microphone to be passed. They didn’t give reasons for being there (that I could hear).
- Ronald Carter (Lake Park),
- Tom Barr (Lake Park).
They weren’t grouped by their councils.
- Mark Barber (Valdosta City Manager) for dialogue,
- Jonathan Sumner (Hahira City Manager), because his city council sent him,
- Kenny Davis (Hahira Mayor Pro Tem and District 2) for more understanding of rationale and perspective.
- Mason Barfield (Hahira District 4) to represent his constituents and to listen,
- Patrick Warren (Hahira District 3) to represent his constituents.
- Clay Griner (Lowndes County Superdistrict 5) to see an agreement come together,
- Demarcus Marshall (Lowndes County Superdistrict 4) because everyone pays taxes, we’re all in this together, and it’s all about the service
- Jeff Guilliams (Dasher Post 1) to work together,
- Bill Hatfield (Dasher Post 3) to listen and learn,
- Tonia Walker (Dasher City Clerk) because requested,
- Anita Armstrong-Scott (Dasher Post 4) for resolution for everybody.
- Sonny Vickers (Valdosta District 3) for negotiation and consensus, plus a small committee to hammer out a solution,
- Vivian Miller-Cody (Valdosta District 1) for actions and understanding for her constituents,
- Sandra Tooley (Valdosta Mayor Pro-Tem and District 2) to work together for home rule.
Lowndes County again.
- Mark Wisenbaker (Lowndes County District 3) to identify whey we can’t get along so we can finish,
- Joe Pritchard (Lowndes County Manager) what everybody else said,
- Paige Dukes (Lowndes County Clerk) at request of Commission and this is an open meeting,
- Scott Orenstein (Lowndes County District 2) was involved before and disgusted with self and others that not resolved already,
- Joyce Evans (Lowndes County District 1) after years hope can leave with resolution.
- Ben Norton (Valdosta At Large) for agreement.
Apparently there was nobody there from Remerton. I don’t know why.
Water and Waste Water
Video. Lowndes County Commissioner Clay Griner gave a long introduction, aided by County Clerk Paige Dukes.
Eventually Valdosta City Council Sonny Vickers asked, &what is the issue on which you’re stuck?” Griner was vague, so Vickers suggested water and wastewater. Griner said he only knew of two times in ten years that anybody had asked Lowndes County for an extraterritorial agreement about water and sewer, as in where the county would grant a city permission to supply those outside their city limits, or the reverse. He said the first happened in Lake Park, and the latter in Hahira. He indicated the county would not stand in the way of such requests.
Vicker recounted his impression that the county is deliberately preventing Valdosta from growing (by expanding its territory). Griner said all the cities and the county need to grow. He did actually say the city could grow in its high density areas, “instead of way out in the county.”
Valdosta City Council Eric Howard wanted further clarification. Griner reiterated there were only two case in the past ten years. Valdosta City Council Tim Carroll followed up on why people think that, saying he knew of several instances, including a plant that located here only because of Valdosta’s water and sewer, and that only got permission from the county at the last minute. He recommended that as long as a request doesn’t cross county water and sewer lines such brinksmanship shouldn’t be necessary.
Lowndes County Manager Joe Pritchard proceeded to differ, saying the case Carroll brought up came to only a feet that prevented an island being created. He brought up another case, of an industrial development along Inner Perimeter Road, that did not want to move into the city, and wanted county water and sewer, which became a point of contention and did not happen.
Valdosta City Council Sandra Tooley asked whether the county would object if a business located in the county wanted city water. Pritchard noted Carroll had brought up state law. Pritchard said state law says it is necessary to have service delivery areas. He said the Valdosta city charter says Valdosta can provide water anywhere in the county. But state law says there are service areas. Yet he said “it will not be unreasonably withheld” and can happen within thirty days.
Griner said all the parties had put money into their systems, which need to pay for themselves. So each of them want new subscribers.
Tooley wanted to know if county roads and water and sewer covered the same area. Griner said in the city they did, but the county is different.
Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber attempted to diffuse contention by saying service delivery isn’t really the bone of contention: annexation is. Griner indicated there was a connection between the two. Barber acknowledged that after somebody receives a city service the city is allowed to talk to them about annexation, but the service could be fire; it doesn’t have to be water and sewer. Hahira City Manager Jonathan Sumner said state law requires territory to be contiguous to be eligible for annexation. Barber wanted to know why a prospect eligible for water and sewer should take 30 days to get approval. Griner said the 30 days is a maximum, and the actual time could be less with an agreed-upon process.
That’s a summary of the first 30 minutes. They continued for another half hour in this discussion. For example, Patrick Warren (Hahira District 3) said the elephant in the room is the litigation between Valdosta and Lowndes County, which is causing Hahira to suffer sanctions. He also indicated that the attorneys would say no agreement could be reached at this meeting. Lowndes County Commissioner Scottie Orenstein (in whose district Hahira is) said he was unaware that anybody was under sanctions. He said technically Hahira is not under sanctions; they just can’t get DCA (state of Georgia) money. I’m not sure that distinction was very satisfying to Hahira.
Later Orenstein said Valdosta had indicated it wanted its service area to be the entire county, and Orenstein wanted to know on behalf of his constituents who Valdosta was talking to. He wondered what Valdosta would think if Remerton (which is wholly within Valdosta) said it could by right run water and sewer anywhere inside Valdosta?
Valdosta City Council Andy Gibbs quoted from letters from Lowndes County Attorney G. Walter Elliott to the state, yet ended up wondering why this contention is happening? He thought it sounded like everything is about the unincorporated. He indicated he thought the five cities took care of a lot of things in this county.
I would love to summarize the rest of this, but other tasks call….
Do we have agreement? Communication, 24 hours notification, 5 days to decide
Video. Seems like they came up with a process agreement for water and sewer delivery. I don’t know if that resolves any of their differences about tax distribution or annexation.
How does money for roads get allocated?
Video. In which there was some confusion about who pays taxes for what.
Here’s a LAKE video playlist:
Videos: Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) Meeting: Lowndes County and cities
SDS Meeting, Lowndes County Commission (SDS),
Video by Gretchen Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE),
Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, February 4, 2019.
Here is an explanation of Service Delivery Strategies (SDS) by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
Valdosta and Lowndes County have in past years spent a lot of money on attorneys litigating their SDS disagreements.
Here is an overview by the City of Valdosta, dated 11 January 2017.
Here are some slides by the county, apparently from 2016. They itemize what sorts of services are at issue.
I don’t know if there have been any further developments on negotiations since in June 2017 a Superior Court Judge restored access to state funding for Valdosta and Lowndes County, leaving the 2008 SDS active.
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