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City won 't change water, sewer rate

An attempt to even water and sewer rates across Thomson and McDuffie County was blocked Monday in a 3-2 vote of the Thomson City Council.

County Commissioner the Rev. Fred Favors led a protest by more than 80 city and county residents.

A counterprotest began to take shape Tuesday. Dearing Mayor Sean Kelley called a special town council meeting for 7 tonight at town hall to prepare the town's response.

The proposal would have raised Thomson sewer rates and reduced rates elsewhere, including the Belle Meade and North Dallas areas and the town of Dearing. The motion also would have pledged to work toward a unified water rate over two years, again with higher rates in Thomson.

That proposal was approved Tuesday, April 19, by the combined city-county sewer commission. The commissioners approved the measure that same evening, on a split 3-2 vote.

The city council took up the proposal April 21, but the motion failed when two council members were absent. A second meeting was called for Monday, when the motion was rejected.

Specifics of the proposal have been taking shape over the past several weeks. Mayor Kenneth Usry has said officials have looked toward the combined rate schedule for several years.

In order to make the reduced revenue possible, officials have looked toward reducing debt by more than $900,000, including a county-controlled fund that has been labeled the special fund.

That contentious funding has been the subject of accusations and friction within the board of commissioners. The fund had been frozen for several months until the April 19 vote to allocate it toward the water-sewer project.

Favors stated again Monday that the fund was created without the authority or the consent of the full commission. Once again, he said he would seek an investigation into the diversion of money into that fund.

Favors and the Rev. Sammie Wilson were outnumbered in the April 19 vote. Commission President Charlie Newton Jr. sided with William Jopling and Paul McCorkle to break the 2-2 tie.

At Monday's second attempt to move the measure past the council, council members James "Jay" Jones and Clifford "Bud" Lunceford voted in favor of the measure. Alton Belton, the Rev. John Smalley and Bernice Brown defeated the request.

Usry allowed several minutes of public comment. Favors said he represented most of those present. He said city residents should not shoulder higher rates because the Belle Meade residents requested and received the sewer service.

"Don't disguise this under the fig leaves of fairness," Favors said. "It's their responsibility."

The Rev. David Walker of Greater St. James A.M.E. Church in Thomson, saying he represents more than 150 voters, called the proposal unfair to the residents of Thomson.

Retiree Henry Teamer, who lives just south of the city limits, sided with city residents. "When certain parts of a community ask for greater service, then they should pay for those services," Teamer said.

Favors told The McDuffie Mirror that a meeting Sunday night rallied opposition to the rate changes. The gathering at Springfield Baptist Church in Thomson was a community meeting, not a church event, he said. He described the meeting as a resurrection service.

Favors repeated his promise to seek an investigation into the creation of the special fund and of spending from that account. He said a news conference would be scheduled soon.

On Tuesday, Dearing's Kelley said his own small town needs to lobby for the new rate schedule. "I just think the people in Dearing need to be heard," Kelley said. "All we're hearing is 'poor Thomson, poor Thomson.'"

Water and sewer rates differ, based on the cost of the original projects providing that service.

As the rate proposal has gained steam, officials have also looked at pressuring those who have sewer service available to connect with service.

Web posted on Thursday, April 28, 2011

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