Meeting set for Fulton County, Atlanta in dispute over old water bills

Johns Creek reluctantly approved agreement with Fulton County for animal control services. (Courtesy Fulton County Animal Services)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Johns Creek reluctantly approved agreement with Fulton County for animal control services. (Courtesy Fulton County Animal Services)

Does Fulton County owe Atlanta millions for old water bills?

More than a month after that question resurfaced, it hasn’t been settled. But county and city staff are scheduled to hash out some of it on Thursday of next week, Fulton Chief Financial Officer Sharon Whitmore said Wednesday.

“We need to resolve this, so I would like you to go into that meeting with the idea that we’re going to resolve it,” Fulton Commission Chair Robb Pitts said.

Whitmore said she still doesn’t think one meeting will be enough to settle the dispute. The county is asking for documentation of the claimed debt, which so far hasn’t been forthcoming, she said.

“We do not plan to go over there with any sort of offer to the city to pay anything,” Whitmore said.

She previously said she had checked as far back as 2007 and found no evidence of overdue bills. The county gets more than 90 water bills, with the largest for service to the Rice Street jail, Whitmore said.

County Attorney Y. Soo Jo said the alleged debt would’ve been incurred “decades ago,” putting it well outside the statute of limitations for collection. But until the county sees those specific bills from the city, there’s no way to tell definitively what would fall outside that limit, she said.

The dispute arose because last year Fulton County sent new intergovernmental agreements for animal control to all 15 cities within county boundaries. Fourteen of those cities signed on, though some did so reluctantly. The only holdout was Atlanta, which was asked to pay the most. Jo told commissioners that the county was not legally authorized to give service without a city agreement, creating liability issues.

Each city’s charge for animal control was supposed to be based on the actual cost of service, apportioned by how many calls came from each city — but charges had not increased for five years, while costs had risen. Thus the county and its contractual partner, nonprofit LifeLine Animal Services, had subsidized service for some time, county officials said.

Under the new agreement Atlanta was asked to pay the most, because 55% of animal control calls come from within that city. Pitts’ office said the final annual cost to Atlanta is $6.5 million, more than twice what it was under the old agreement.

Pitts said that during negotiations Atlanta officials raised an old, unrelated issue: the claim that the county owes $5.7 million in water bills. He said he told Mayor Andre Dickens that if the county actually owes anything, it will be paid.

Fulton County resumed providing animal control to Atlanta on April 17 after a 12-day hiatus, following Atlanta’s agreement to sign the new memorandum of understanding and the expectation that the city would retroactively pay for service provided from Jan. 1 to April 5.