Sandy Springs officials hope the new Atlanta mayor will help resolve a dispute over water service and rates that has made it into the courts.

City Attorney Dan Lee said the city’s lawsuits, which were filed to force Atlanta into entering an intergovernmental agreement with Sandy Springs for water service and adjustment of rates, are on hold awaiting a ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court. The court has been asked to reject an appeal by Atlanta, which does not want to enter arbitration. Lee said the court will rule whether that city has the legal right to appeal arbitration.

Issues with the water system operated by Atlanta go back years. A fire hydrant on Sandy Springs’ Kayron Drive leaked heavily for more than 10 weeks in the summer of 2017 until being repaired after Reporter coverage. City Attorney Dan Lee said most of the fire hydrant problems were resolved through good working relationships between Sandy Springs and Atlanta fire departments. (File/John Ruch)

Atlanta operates a water system in its neighbor city’s limits despite never entering into an IGA with Sandy Springs since it formed in 2005, Lee said. State law requires a municipality operating in another jurisdiction to make an IGA.

“The big issue here is who will deliver water in Sandy Springs. And back to the other law that requires intergovernmental agreement to be in our jurisdiction and which didn’t exist,” Lee said.

Sandy Springs water customers pay twice what Atlantans do, far above the service costs as allowed by state law, he said.

The Georgia Municipal Association suggested Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens talk to Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, Lee said.

Preliminary discussions have been made with Dickens’ staff about getting together, said Paul, who wants to have a conversation before the city takes any drastic steps.

“But we can’t allow this to keep going and going and going and going. We have a catastrophic failure of our water system, and the folks in this community are going to be rightly asking questions,” he said.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs could stop all grants issued to Fulton County and all its cities, including Sandy Springs and Atlanta, because the required IGA is not in place, Paul said.

“We’re having this conversation openly … The goal is not to gain control. The goal is to gain water reliability,” Lee said, explaining what steps Sandy Springs is taking.

However, the city had the water system appraised, including the Johns Creek water treatment plant operated jointly by Atlanta and Fulton County. Sandy Springs is the only Atlanta customer for that plant, Lee said. Excess water is sold back to the county for its use.

The city is figuring how it would operate and fund the water system if it could be sold to Sandy Springs. They are looking to the private sector to operate the water system in the city, at least initially, if that happens.

Water rates are so high that the city figures it would pay for itself and there’d be a major reduction in rates to the users, Lee said.

“We need to be … trying to resolve this as soon as we possibly can because of the potential long-term harm that a failure would cause the community,” Paul said.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.