Originally created 03/11/00

Water bill faces opposition



A bill that would create a water authority to take over the Augusta waterworks is expected to pass out of the Georgia House on Monday and go to the Senate.

The measure, introduced by state Rep. Henry Howard, D-Augusta, has been signed by four members of the Richmond County delegation and will need the signatures of Augusta's two state senators and voter approval to become law.

The issue would be on the ballot in the November general election.

Augusta officials are opposed to the measure, and Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, who has said he sees no need for an authority added Thursday he remains steadfast in that opinion.

"I haven't seen the bill, but I don't know of anything that would make me change my mind," he said. "I see no need to add another layer of bureaucracy to the government."

The authority would consist of 12 members, eight of whom would be appointed by a majority vote of the Augusta Commission and four by a majority vote of the Richmond County legislative delegation.

The delegation's four appointees would serve initial five-year terms. Four of the commission's initial appointees would serve one-year terms, and four would serve three-year terms. After the initial terms, all members would serve six-year stints and could be appointed additional years.

The authority would buy, construct, equip, maintain and operate the water system and issue revenue bonds.

It also would set water rates, but Mr. Howard said he would have no problem amending the bill to allow the city commission to cap the rates.

"I'm in favor of doing anything to modify the bill where the city government can have some input," Mr. Howard said.

Members would be reimbursed for actual expenses only and would receive no other compensation.

The authority would make its own rules and regulations and have perpetual existence.

Mr. Howard said he initially considered legislation to create an authority because of water shortages the past two summers and the fact that the consolidated government continued to transfer money from the water system into the general fund to keep from raising property taxes.

All transfers ceased this year, however.

Augusta Commissioner Ulmer Bridges, chairman of the city's Engineering Services Committee, said a water authority would be "counter-productive."

"We've had a great struggle over the last four years in regards to bringing the water system up to what it needs to be so we can move forward and prepare for the future," he said.

"This summer, we will have caught up with where we need to be in regards to water infrastructure so that at that point we can begin to plan for our water needs for the future without having to worry about having to supply water to the existing system."

A 20-inch water line that will be coming on line in May and more water going to the Brown Road area will eliminate two major areas of past water shortages, he said.

"I think we need to keep in mind that we would have extended our water lines and capacity much farther than we have had we not been hampered by having to use those capital resources to repair the old city's neglected infrastructure," Mr. Bridges said.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 .