The city of Sandy Springs is considering a measure that would require the city of Atlanta to pay a fee to operate the local water system. The proposal came as City Attorney Dan Lee asserted Atlanta is improperly using water revenues and overcharging Sandy Springs customers.
The proposal, which was unanimously tabled by the City Council at its Sept. 4 meeting until likely the first October meeting, includes a franchise fee on 5 percent of Atlanta’s revenue from Sandy Springs water service. The fee would bring in an estimated $900,000 per year and would be used by Sandy Springs to repair the system, Lee said.
The battle over control of the water system is one of the city’s longest standing issues. The city launched a new priority in January this year to seek improvements to the Atlanta-run water system or sue to seize control of it. Sandy Springs claims the system is aging and leaky, while Atlanta says the criticisms are not true.
Mayor Rusty Paul said at his “State of the City” address in June that he was trying to meet with Atlanta to discuss purchasing the water system. He said that is still an option Sandy Springs is interested in at the Sept. 4 meeting.
Since early this year, the city has been asking Atlanta for records to use for an appraisal for the water system, including what rates the city charges Sandy Springs customers. Atlanta was slow to respond to Sandy Springs’ requests, and has not fulfilled all of them or only given outdated documents, Lee said. Atlanta has blamed some of the delay on a cyberattack.
But the documents Sandy Springs has received show Atlanta is using some of the water revenues improperly, Lee said. Cities are required to only use any revenue from water service to support those systems, but documents show millions of the Watershed Department’s funds are being diverted to the city’s general fund and others, Lee said.
“Completely improper,” Lee said. “Their own documents show this.”
The documents showed that Sandy Springs is paying a higher rates for service than Atlanta residents, Lee said.
City officials are calling for Atlanta to return the revenue to the watershed department and to lower the water rates to a “justified” level.
“The city of Atlanta has not reinvested any of this money it’s making to improve the water system in Sandy Springs,” Paul said. “It appears we are paying high rates for a low quality of service.”
The franchise fee would be used by Sandy Springs to make its own repairs, which the city has the authority to do to protect citizens from public safety threats like water leaks or faulty fire hydrants, which have been a problem, Lee said.
Some City Council members were concerned that Atlanta could pass this fee on to customers in the form of an additional surcharge.
“Are we actually shooting ourselves in the foot here?” Councilmember John Paulson said.
Lee said that is a possibility, but creating the fee while the city challenges the rates lessens that probability.
The council decided to table the measure so it can be further investigated and discussed.