Lowndes County: Valdosta has “intent” to annex county residents, businesses

| January 6, 2017

LOWNDES Co. – In an official statement released Thursday, Lowndes County accused the City of Valdosta of an intent to open paths to annex portions of Lowndes County.

The statement comes after months of disagreement over the Service Delivery Strategy between Lowndes County and its municipalities.

In the statement, Lowndes County claims the City of Valdosta is attempting to expand its water and sewer service area which, in turn, would allow the city to land currently in unincorporated parts of the county.

The county claims the annexation would generate tax revenue to help Valdosta with debt incurred during the building of the new wastewater treatment facility.

Released Statement from Lowndes County:

Lowndes County addresses water/sewer, annexation, and economic development claims made by Cities.

Negotiations between Lowndes County and the cities of Valdosta, Hahira, Lake Park, Remerton, and Dasher, related to the agreement required by the Service Delivery Strategy Act have expanded beyond the scope of the service delivery law due to demands made by the cities. From the beginning, Lowndes County offered to renew the existing agreement because while the population of our community has grown since 2008, the method of providing services and the funding sources for those services has remained the same.

The City of Valdosta’s attempt to shed negative light on Lowndes County by presenting a list of fourteen items for discussion to create the perception that the cities were willing to “give up” on thirteen items to apply pressure on the County to “give in” on water/sewer service areas is in reality an attempt by the City of Valdosta to open up the County’s service area for annexation. Annexation could result in citizens living outside city limits being brought into city limits against their will. It would also result in annexed property owners paying city taxes and being required to connect to city water/sewer systems which includes inheriting millions of dollars in debt related to the City of Valdosta’s new wastewater treatment plant. Further, parents with children attending Lowndes County schools would find their children in the City of Valdosta’s school district. While our community is blessed with two, exceptional school systems, many parents appreciate the opportunity to choose city or county schools based on where they choose to live. The following section from the City of Valdosta’s code of ordinances expresses the City’s intent to annex.

The Code of the City of Valdosta

Sec. 98-92. – Service area.

(a)

It is the intent of the mayor and council to provide water service on a self-sustaining basis to any and/or all users within the corporate limits of the city. It is not the intent to add new water users outside of the corporate limits of the city. Service will be supplied to anyone requesting it, provided the service will be feasible financially, and insofar as possible self-sustaining. In cases where economic feasibility is a factor, the city shall have the final decision as to whether or not service will be provided. In determining feasibility, the city will consider the cost of construction as well as the cost of maintenance both before and after the extended system is fully utilized.

(b)

To compensate for the lower density in the outlying areas and the resulting greater unit costs of serving users in such areas, all water rates to users outside the corporate limits prior to October 6, 1988, shall be double those charged inside the city, including connection charges, regular water rates, cost recovery fees, and impact charges that may be assessed.

(c)

In order to accomplish the intent of this section, the city shall develop master plans for water mains and sewer outfalls, which shall be used as the guide for extensions to allow orderly growth of the system and development of the land within the city as well as in the areas surrounding the city as annexation occurs.

(Code 1976, § 5-1042)

City of Valdosta officials have stated Lowndes County is prohibiting the City from growing. This is not the case. In fact, Lowndes County voluntarily allocated 5 million in SPLOST VII collections that could have been used for County projects, to help fund the City of Valdosta’s wastewater treatment plant project. The existing Service Delivery Agreement already includes a process for the cities to extend water/sewer lines into Lowndes County’s service area. Historically, there are over one-hundred locations where this has been successfully accomplished. To allow the City of Valdosta to run water/sewer lines into Lowndes County’s service area without asking or coordinating could result in the duplication of services the law requires be eliminated.

The Lowndes County Chairman and Commissioners frequently work with the Development Authority of Valdosta-Lowndes County, development stakeholders, and others to encourage growth in our community. Despite claims made by city officials, the cities cannot provide any examples, nor has the Development Authority informed Lowndes County of any issues related to prospects looking elsewhere due to the existing agreement between Lowndes County and Cities for the extension of water/sewer services.

Citizens have an expectation for our entire community to grow and develop in a positive direction. For Lowndes County, this does not mean moving the county line into parts of Brooks, Echols, Lanier, or Cook counties. Growth is defined as a step towards maturation or fulfillment. Lowndes County and the cities of Valdosta, Hahira, Lake Park, Remerton, and Dasher are full of opportunities to grow that are not related to a requirement for more land.

The City of Valdosta is seeking more revenue for its water/sewer system. More customers through annexation creates additional funds to pay down tremendous debt and results in more property taxes funneled into the City’s general fund. Service delivery negotiations should not be used to increase a local

government’s financial position. The service delivery law only requires services to be identified, along with funding sources and service areas. The existing agreement accomplishes this.

The Lowndes County Chairman and Commissioners are elected by voters living inside and outside city limits. This being the case, they represent the entire community. The Mayors and City Councilmen/women only represent those living inside city limits. During service delivery negotiations, if Lowndes County officials are not mindful of the impact decisions could have on those living outside city limits, those citizens are not being represented at all. Lowndes County must be conscious of changes to the existing Service Delivery Agreement that make areas outside city limits vulnerable to annexation or shifts in funding that require some citizens to pay more so others can pay less.

Despite the City of Valdosta’s claim that Lowndes County has not negotiated in good faith, citizens should know that Lowndes County has made numerous proposals prior to and after mediation that moved the line in the Cities’ favor with regards to their requests. Each time, the County’s offers have been denied or have been returned with such potential for negative impact on those living and/or owning property outside city limits, the County was unable to accept the Cities’ response.

Lowndes County is not hurting the community by refusing an extension of the existing Service Delivery Agreement. Rather, demands made by the Cities could have a significant negative impact on the half of our community that chooses to live outside city limits.

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