Water czars and sewer boys in Fayette County
Last Friday, the Fayette County Board of Commissioners and the Fayette County Water Committee hosted dedication ceremonies for the newly constructed Lake McIntosh. Quite a few politicians, water czars and sewer boys were in attendance. Local lakes, drinking water, sewer service, storm water fees and other associated costs of clean water have been front page news in Fayette County for several months.
The purpose of this column is to clarify the role and responsibilities of the related governmental authorities, committees and other entities vying for fees and tax dollars to provide clean water to Fayette County residents. It is not an attempt to make a political point or evaluate the effectiveness of the intertwined efforts of local governments.
Members of the Peachtree City Water and Sewage Authority (PCWASA) recently sought a change that would permit them to expand sewer service outside the boundaries of Peachtree City without city council permission. Taxpayers and City Council members were reluctant to support the proposal for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that easy access to sewer in nearby Coweta County will promote high density development. Such development will place transportation and other infrastructure demands on the city while Coweta County receives tax revenue and other benefits of the developments.
A secondary reason is that many residents of Peachtree City don’t have access to sewer despite being on the hook for debt incurred to purchase the system from Pathway Communities and additional debt to pay for needed repairs. Some residents ask: Why should the city offer sewer service to outsiders when it can’t provide sewer to those who are responsible for paying the debt of the system?
Soon after that idea was quashed comes the shocking news that the Peachtree City Council is considering a proposal to double the stormwater fees levied on home owners, add several city employees for stormwater maintenance,purchase shiny new equipment and borrow upward of $7 million to continue feeding the beast.
Last week, Fayette County Commissioners followed suit by sending bills to residents of unincorporated Fayette for a similar program. These stormwater programs are designed to manage rainfall surges related to erosion control and sediment in streams and lakes. Elected officials continue to argue that these new and increasing fees are not property tax increases despite being administered to all property owners in a uniform manner.
After reading the blogs and talking with several citizens, this writer concluded that few people understand the role, responsibilities and budgets of the Peachtree City Water and Sewer Authority (PCWASA), the Fayette County stormwater utility, Peachtree City stormwater department, and the Fayette Water System. The following paragraphs offer a primer course in water and sewage in Fayette County.
First, PCWASA does not provide water to Peachtree City residents or anyone else despite being titled “water and sewer authority.” It only provides sewer service to certain residents of Peachtree City.
The city of Fayetteville, town of Tyrone and town of Brooks provide sewer service to their respective residents. Sewer service is not available in unincorporated Fayette County because Fayette County Commission members have traditionally viewed the lack of sewer availability as a useful tool in prohibiting high density development.
Public water in Peachtree City is provided by the Fayette Water System (FWS) which is an entity of the Fayette County government. The members of the water board are advisory to the county commission, and water service to county residents including those in the cities is the ultimate responsibility of the five county commissioners.
The Fayette Water System uses Line Creek, Whitewater Creek, Lake Peachtree, Lake Kedron, Lake Horton and a small network of strategically placed wells as the source of water for Fayette residents including those who reside in Peachtree City. Lake Peachtree is owned by Peachtree City and is used as a county reservoir by agreement between the county and Peachtree City. The other lakes including the recently dedicated 650-acre Lake McIntosh are owned by Fayette County.
Peachtree City resident’s bills for water and sewer are collected by the Fayette Water System with the sewage portion being transferred to PCWASA to cover debt service and operating expenses of the authority. Peachtree City residents without sewer access are not billed for sewer service but they are ultimately responsible for debt incurred by the sewer authority.
Second, PCWASA has nothing to do with stormwater or the annual storm fee paid by Peachtree city residents. The Peachtree City stormwater program commonly known as “water run-off” is not a separate utility or authority. It is operated as a separate kingdom within City Hall and the annual fees are collected from property owners and budgeted by the City Council in a special budget line item known as the storm drain utility fund. The fund is dedicated to the repairs, improvements and replacement of the water run-off infrastructure which was primarily constructed and paid for by developers at no cost to the city. The new Fayette County stormwater utility will operate in a similar manner.
This writer’s boring explanation of the complicated organization and delivery of the local water, sewer and stormwater detention programs sets the backdrop for readers to understand why it is difficult for political leaders to get a handle on long-term debt for infrastructure and capital expenditures. Low interest rates on bonds have generated spending sprees in Fayette County and Peachtree City that are unprecedented.
The emerging problem of long-term local debt will be featured in a future column. Meanwhile, the water czars and sewer boys will continue to increase fees and obligate taxpayers to increased long-term debt until there is rebellion at the ballot box.
[Scott Bradshaw, a resident of Peachtree City, is a real estate broker and residential real estate developer. His family has owned property in what is now Peachtree City since 1820, before there was a Fayette County. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]