TIFTON -- The Tift County Board of Commissioners voted to submit a new service delivery proposal to the City of Tifton, at a called meeting June 25.
The new proposal comes on the heels of the Tifton City Council announcing at its June 15 meeting that it planned to no longer contract with Tift County to supply animal control, elections, inmate housing, recreation, non-emergency dispatch and tax collection services after the current contracts expired.
The proposal, which Tift County Manager Jim Carter said was the county’s fourth, would create a joint sewer and water authority and transfer all assets and liabilities of the water and sewer enterprise funds to the authority.
“In layman’s terms, it’ll be run as a business,” Carter said.
Residential water rates would be equalized throughout the county.
“You cannot arbitrarily charge rates based off of where they [customers] live,” said Carter. “That’s what the law says.”
Authority members could consist of: the Tifton mayor; the County Commission chairman; an appointment from the Tift County Development Authority; an appointment from the Tifton Downtown Development Authority; a resident of Tifton; and a resident of Tift County outside of Tifton.
The new proposal also posits dismissing all ongoing claims and litigation between Tifton and Tift County concerning the water/sewer systems and enterprise fund, with both sides agreeing not to file any future lawsuits “regarding the water or sewer systems or enterprise funds that arose prior to the date of the settlement/dismissal.”
The city and county have been locked in ongoing litigation about the water and sewer systems since 2018.
(Editor’s Note: See attached our previous stories about that litigation)
“When we’re done, it’s a new day,” Carter said.
Under the proposal, EMS, animal control, recreation and the library would continue to be funded through the county’s general fund.
Tax collection, which the county has been providing to the city since 2009, according to Carter, would continue to be provided for the current fee of 2.5% of the city tax digest.
City of Tifton elections would continue to be held by the Tift County Board of Elections, with the city paying for the cost of the election.
Inmate housing for the city would continue to be provided by the Tift County Sheriff’s Office.
The county would continue to provide non-emergency 911 dispatching for $200,000 per year, as well as emergency dispatch.
“The county commission continues to be willing to meet with the City of Tifton and work towards finding an equitable solution to service delivery,” Carter said.
The proposal was approved by the board at the end of a two hour meeting that delved into the history of the water/sewer dispute between the city and county, as well as the history of the different services the city has contracted for with the county.
“This is a fair offer,” Carter told the board. “This is a good offer. It does it without an increase in taxes. The lawsuits go away.”
Carter acknowledged the lengthy, long running dispute between the City of Tifton and Tift County governments.
“One of things I wanted to try to do [with this presentation] is keep the feelings out of it. One thing I learned from the mediation is that they don't trust us, we don't trust them, both of our feelings have been hurt,” Carter said. “Everybody's tired, everybody wants it to be over.”
“If you go to the city meetings, they’re going to have the same feelings we have,” he added. “They’re no less passionate about it...There’s a lot of water under the bridge and there’s a lot of hurt feelings.”
“What happened in the past is gone,” said commissioner Donnie Hester. “The Good Book says we've got to love everybody.”
“It's been insinuated and even said that the county is abandoning the city,” said commissioner Stan Stalnaker. “In fact, the county has offered all those services to the city. They turned them down, which is their right.”
“It's in the best interest of everyone in this county to keep everyone together,” Stalnaker added. “That's the hope...even though they have every right not to.”