Grantville vs. Meriwether

Officials to meet again regarding hydrants

by W. Winston Skinner

Grantville city officials will be meeting with representatives from Meriwether County to revisit a request for fire hydrants on Meriwether Street.

The street is located just outside the city limits in unincorporated Meriwether County. At one point, the Grantville City Council seemed close to placing water lines on the street — even though no residents are currently requesting water meters.

Now the issue is under discussion again. Councilmen Johnny Cooks and Barham Lundy have been advocates for the hydrants — citing both how the hydrants could save lives in the event of a fire and how water lines there could eventually lead to customers and income for the city.

Others on the council noted residents in the city — including some on Grandma Branch Road — also have no hydrants.

“Why doesn’t Meriwether County pay for this if Meriwether citizens want it?” asks David Riley, a new member of the city council. “Why do we pay out of our funds if no one’s getting hooked up? Why doesn’t Meriwether County take care of the people who pay taxes in Meriwether County?”

Even the exact cost of the project is disputed. Grantville Mayor Jim Sells has pegged the cost at $18,000 — plus any overrides that arise during construction. Cooks and City Manager Johnny Williams have cited a price in the $15,000-$16,000 range.

Sells and Councilman David Riley noted the people who will benefit from the project are not citizens of Grantville but of Meriwether County. Meriwether County has agreed to help with about $3,000 of the cost.

Cooks says he does not see a problem with running the lines — with an eye toward selling water there at some point in the future. “This comes out of enterprise funds,” Cooks says, money generated by utility sales. While the immediate need is hydrants, “we’re expanding the utility customer base,” Cooks says.

Lundy agrees.

“What Meriwether County has done by giving us permission to run those water lines down there, it will enhance the city’s bottom line,” Lundy says. “There will be development in there.”

While Meriwether will only get an annual tax payment, Lundy says, Grantville stands to get revenue every month from the sale of utilities.

Riley sees the issue in equally stark terms, but he has a completely different view.

“My first question is why doesn’t Meriwether County pay for the full amount and we’ll put it in for them,” he says. “It’s their county. … Why don’t they pay the whole bill instead of $3,000?”

Riley states his preference would be for “nothing coming out of the (Grantville) citizens’ pockets at all.” Otherwise, the Meriwether Street residents should ask to be annexed so they can “pay taxes like the rest of the citizens do.”

Grantville’s city limits already lap over the Coweta line into Meriwether County, and the city’s utilities are sold to people in Meriwether. “You’ve got water lines, gas lines and electric lines running into Meriwether County now,” Lundy notes.

In fact, one home on Meriwether Street is now provided with water by Grantville. Although the house is in Meriwether County, the meter is in Coweta.

Sells has several problems with the Meriwether Street hydrants. He questions why Grantville should run lines that help people in another jurisdiction have lower insurance premiums. He also is troubled by knowing some Grantville citizens do not have hydrants. He observes Grandma Branch Road residents have paid for water taps but have no hydrants.

Referring to the Meriwether Street residents, Sells remarks, “Not the first person has come forward and said, ‘I want a tap.’ That’s what makes you money.” Sells grasps the concept that — ideally — everyone would have a hydrant nearby. “The people who live in the city of Grantville — on Grandma Branch Road — should get them first, by golly,” he insists.

Sells also notes Lundy owns the only business on the street. Lundy counterposes that he is not behind the drive for hydrants.

“My business opened in June. Those people on Meriwether Street started this process two years ago,” he says.

He says Sells “stopped the project” when he found out about Lundy’s business. “That’s the reason.”

Cooks insists the hydrants will — in the long haul — make economic sense. “If we’re in the utility business, we provide infrastructure first,” he says.

The hydrant lines present “a potential opportunity for other people who are going to come in and develop that area,” Cooks says. “Either we’re in the utility business or we’re not.”

If the city is not going to prepare for growth, “maybe we should sell our utility business to someone else,” Cooks says.

Last week, the council agreed to have Sells meet with Meriwether County officials again. Riley wants to see Meriwether “put more money into this project.” The council hopes to have the issue resolved within 90 days.

Lundy cast the lone vote against having new meetings. “Why don’t we end this?” he asked. “Either we’re going to do it, or we don’t.”

The Meriwether Street hydrant issue illustrates the layers of reasons, feelings, frustration and contention that surround many issues in Grantville.

Talking about another contract issue, Cooks says, “It’s all about smoke and mirrors. We have a lot of smoke and mirrors here. If we’re going to run our city in smoke and mirrors, we are going in the wrong direction.”

Again, Sells has a different view. He campaigned for Riley and Leonard Gomez, who defeated incumbent councilmembers Selma Coty and Rochelle Jabaley late last year. Already, Sells and the two new councilmen have flexed their political muscle — outvoting Cooks and Lundy on several issues.

Regarding the Meriwether Street hydrant proposal, he says dryly, ““I think there was strong objection to this at the polls last November.”

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