Originally created 01/27/99

City officials oppose new water authority



ATLANTA -- Augusta officials told members of the Richmond County legislative delegation Tuesday that creating an independent water and sewer authority would add unneeded bureaucracy to local government.

Mayor Bob Young said that idea runs counter to legislators' support for consolidating Augusta and Richmond County during the mid-1990s.

"We're heading in the wrong direction if we are creating another bureaucracy," Mr. Young said.

State Rep. Henry Howard, D-Augusta, has advocated a bill calling for creation of an independent water and sewer authority.

Concerns arise out of recent sewage spills into the Savannah River plus water shortages last summer. Lawmakers also have questioned the deposit of water fees into the city's general fund instead of usage of the money to upgrade the system.

However, Augusta officials told lawmakers the city is weaning itself from using water fees and promised legislators they would have a master plan of priorities to present to the delegation by the next legislative session. They also outlined the schedule for system improvements.

"We're headed in the direction I think the legislative delegation wants to go in," said Augusta Commissioner J.B. Powell.

Water and sewer money transfers to the city's general fund have dropped from $15.2 million in 1995 to an expected $3.2 million this year. By 2000, transfers are expected to drop to $1.7 million.

Mr. Howard and state Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, said they want timetables for improving services to areas of Richmond County.

"There have been some improvements, and I hope there will be more improvements," Mr. Howard said. "I'm not trying to cripple the city, nor am I trying to add another bureaucracy."

The delegation was split over creating an authority before the Georgia Legislature's 1999 session started, and hearing the city's response may ease their concerns.

"I'm pleased with what I've heard today," Mr. Howard said. "I want to leave this sort of in limbo. I want to see what happens."

Asked if that meant he wouldn't push his legislation, he said, "I'm going to digest this overnight."

James Salzer is based in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.