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School board approves settlement with water authority for fees

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education has approved a settlement agreement between the board and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority that will give the board a $36,000 credit.

School board attorney Kent Campbell presented the agreement to the board during this month's work session, when the board unanimously accepted it.

"We can put it behind us and move on," Campbell said, adding that the board has been fighting for 13 months the payment of water and sewer tap fees for the new Newton High School on Crowell Road.

The board paid under protest $297,025 in October 2011 to the authority for water and sewer connection fees, which the authority asserts are rightfully charged, so as not to delay the project, according to information provided to the Citizen via an Open Records Request.

Also in October, attorney Buddy Welch with Smith, Welch, Webb and White out of McDonough filed an Open Records Request for the school board to the water authority, after being contacted as an expert in the field by Campbell. Welch requested from the authority rules, regulations, resolutions and ordinances adopted by the authority to authorize the collection of various fees; the collection of fees, charge and assessments to public entities for water and sewer purposes; and the collection of any type of cost, fee or reimbursements charges for providing water and sewer services.

The authority provided a copy of the letter sent to the board on April 30, 2009. The authority notified the board then that it would have to pay all future water and sewer tap fees due to difficult economic times and in order to be fair to all rate payers paying.

Prior to April 30, 2009, the board paid no sewer tap fees and only $18,680 in water tap fees. From 2010 to 2011, the board paid $127,945 for water costs, $144,000 for a sewer tap and $391,000 for sewer costs, according to a chart provided through the ORR.

In November 2011, Mike Hopkins, executive director of the authority contacted Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews and the members of the school board, acknowledging the ORR.

"We understand that the BOE desires to either not access our sewer system for the new high school or desires to have access for free for this and for all future projects," Hopkins wrote. "We were very surprised to learn of this because of our recent history of dealing with each other, our historical intergovernmental agreement and the fact that utilizing sewer is significantly cheaper that purchasing the land necessary to have a private septic system."

He also acknowledged that the project bidders for the new high school called the authority to ask about the sewer tap fees but the contractor that was awarded the job didn't have the tap fee in its bid. He claims that the ORR was "clearly aimed at attacking (the authority) and preparing for litigation."

"While we have no desire to spend public funds on lawyers and litigation, it seems the BOE has decided upon this course," Hopkins wrote. "We remain very willing and able to sit down with the BOE without lawyers and see if we can find a solution that makes sense for the citizens of Newton County. However, until the BOE sees fit to invest its time in productive discussions rather than paying lawyers, we have no choice but to ready ourselves to defend our fees and prevail on the fact that we have the right to charge a sewer tap fee and under no circumstances are we obligated to grant sewer access for free."

In turn, he asked the board to provide through an ORR 27 items, such as bid documents, communication about planning information, construction budgets, contracts and other items for the new high school.

In February 2012, the BOE apparently requested to meet with the authority board. Afterward, authority board Chair Jimmy French sent the school board a letter, letting it know that it can either build and maintain a private septic field or tap into the sewer system. He also acknowledged that the board paid recent tap fees for projects without protest.

He noted that the BOE can be charged between eight and 28 gallons per student, but the authority only charges for eight gallons, so the tap fee "is much less than what it probably ought to be."

He said the authority membership was "a bit offended by the BOE's approach" -- the authority tried to speak to the board members but none would talk, seeming to have been advised by a lawyer not to speak.

"Instead of open discussion, we received multiple threatening letters from a lawyer seeking 30+ years worth of documents. We would have preferred a series of civil conversations," French wrote.

He said that the board has expressed paying at the time of occupancy rather than at construction, so he offered for the board to pay half of the fee at the start of construction and half when services begin.

Later in February, the school board drafted a letter in response to French, saying that the authority collects fees based upon a formula that is not "fair and equitable to the public school system" since the school board was required to pay 100 percent of the fee for the maximum capacity of the school that wouldn't open until Aug. 2013 and wouldn't reach capacity for several years, while developers of subdivisions don't pay until a building permit is issued.

The school board requested that the authority refund the school board $240,000 and allow the board to pay half of the fees in July 2013, and that in September 2013, the board pay based on the actual student population and would pay additional sewer fees each September if student population increases until it reaches capacity.

"The Board is not asking for special privileges, rather, the Board is asking that the Authority do what is fair and equitable for the public school system," the board wrote.

French responded in March through a letter, saying that the school board is a commercial user, not a residential user. He said that commercial and industrial developers are treated similar to the BOE, and residents are charged when the buildings get built.

School board Chair Eddie Johnson and member Almond Turner apparently met with French and member Keith Ellis for a settlement meeting afterward to discuss the dispute with no lawyers or executives present, according to the ORR. No notes from the meeting were provided.

"Rather than expend taxpayer and ratepayer resources on litigation, the parties desire to settle all claims, matters, controversies and disputes between them regarding fees assessed by the authority related to the project," reads the settlement agreement.

NCSS was billed by Smith, Welch, Webb and White for $3,994.04 in attorney fees from November 2011 to August 2012. Campbell has yet to bill the school board for the matter, but also provided services in the case.

As part of the settlement, the authority agreed to give the school board a lump sum credit of $36,000 for future water and sewer bills.

Comments

OnToday 1 year, 6 months ago

Geez.... am I the only one that is sick and tired of this school board and its lawyer(s)? I doubt it. It seems everything they do is heavy handed and awkward and handled inappropriately. And I can't help but think Dennis Carpenter's finger prints are all over this. Isn't that his job, as associate superintendent? I'd like the Citizen to do an open records request on his involvement in this matter. I can almost guarantee he screwed this up and then got the lawyers involved.

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Covingtonian 1 year, 6 months ago

Take your meds and come back as someone else Shannon.

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OnToday 1 year, 6 months ago

I can assure you I am not Shannon. But I know you won't believe me, nor do I care. And while we are dispensing advice, don't you find it ironic that you do the same exact thing you criticize others of doing? I am now convinced you are Dennis Carpenter. How's the job search going? Unfortunately this water incident is ANOTHER incident in a long line that assures us we are stuck with you forever.

Why don't you whine and cry to your attorney and try to smoke me out so you can sue me. Since you have nothing better to do.

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PaperChase 1 year, 5 months ago

I think you have to add Airport Road to the list here. Dennis Carpenter is over Operations system wide now how that hire took place you need to ask people who mainly have left the system but it was not too different from his own hiring of LaQuanda Brown at Alcovy High who suddenly became LaQuanda Carpenter. Both papers have requested open records on the fall 2010 termination at Newton High - Connect The Dots people. Follow the trail of the money and the paper. Now the paper trail won't always work because guess who watches over system Human Resources records meaning his own personnel file? Yep you guessed it the same guy discussed above. The school system has cronied down but can still be cleaned up for the better of our kids and it needs to be please get Rickie Corley in District 2 seat.

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TheUpside 1 year, 6 months ago

I wonder if they took this away from Dennis Carpenter. Jeff Foster was asking for amendments to Carpenter's job it looks like so something is up. Kent Campbell just got his 15 munutes of fame. This bunch is outta the park!

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tomgahunter 1 year, 6 months ago

@Covingtonian.. good to see you are still on the Carpenter bandwagon, personally I agree with On Today, we all know how the Carpenters love their Lawyers rather than doing the right thing.

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OnToday 1 year, 6 months ago

How much did this "outside consultant" cost the system? Any credit received from the Water Authority is all but gone because of legal fees and other fees associated with this debacle. So we have this incident, the forgotten stadium lights, the Crowell Road controversy, the alleged savings from the transportation changes that actually cost more money, the sign in front of Flint ES, and numerous other incidents that tell me someone is not paying attention to his job. So it ends up costing more money in the end to fix these problems.

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dennistay53 1 year, 6 months ago

Got to be George Bush's fault i guess.

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Frustrated 1 year, 6 months ago

Lets see...how much was it because someone forgot to add the cost of lights on the athletic fields? Now they didnt figure the cost to have sewer and water taps? How much more is this going to cost the taxpayers. Someone that was supposed to be watching the bid process (D. Carpenter) should lose their job over this. Too many omissions and mistakes in this whole process.

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John 1 year, 6 months ago

Does the words "The Peter Principle" apply. Great reading from 1969 or get the real short story from a "Wiki quickie".

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jwm1955 1 year, 6 months ago

I suppose we need for S A C S to come and check our B O E out , they sure do noy know how to handle our hard earned money.

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PaperChase 1 year, 5 months ago

The problems in NCSS are severe. Corruption abounds and it is why so many stories reveal financial and operational issues and oversight. Disappointed in Mathews coasting into June 30 to departure and letting things slide. If Corley does not get in to help we are doomed. Real leadership would chase down the Alcovy High money from 2009 to now if LaQuanda Carpenter welcomes investigation then why drop the suit when the heat came???? We know. Did LaQuanda get deposed or drop it when the push came to depose her and pull money records. I hope they sue Lindsey for frivolous court action and abuse of process and sue the school board too for allowing LaQuanda Carpenter to run wild.

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