The pen strokes by Deal mean the dismissal of several suits and countersuits involving Waycross, Pierce County and a local bank, among other principals. The signature also will, hopefully, remove the bad blood that developed between the neighboring governments when Rep. Chad Nimmer’s surreptitiously passed legislation de-annexed the so-called Bonneyman tract from Waycross July 1, 2015.
Waycross Mayor John Knox, certainly, wants to see bygones become bygones.
“We are glad it is over, glad the governor signed it and happy the long drawn-out unpleasant situation is over,” said Knox Monday. “We are still disappointed it happened at all … but it has been resolved and we can move forward.
“Pierce County is such a good friend and neighbor of Waycross. So many people there work and shop in Waycross, and we are so glad they do. We certainly want to build on that longstanding friendship we’ve long enjoyed with our friends in Pierce County.”
Effective next July 1, the law will restore the city’s treatment plant RIB (rapid infiltration basin) site to Waycross jurisdiction.
“What we got in the agreement,” said Knox, “we got back into the city the water and sewer treatment plant and the Bluffs Of Satilla (housing project) with close to 40 residential building sites on it. What we are not getting back is the Bonneyman Road buildings. We are still going to sell them water and sewer, it is just that they are not coming back into the city.”
First Southern Bank, holders and marketers of the Bluffs Of Satilla, sued Waycross and Pierce because the impasse ruined the bank’s ability to sell the properties.
City manager Raphel Maddox said Monday he believes that the bank will drop the suit.
Because the Bluffs Of Satilla will again be inside the city limits, they will get typical utility rates. The city will provide water and sewer, fire and police service in the subdivision and collect property taxes.
Customers on Bonneyman Road who elect to become water-sewer customers of the city will pay according to a different rate scale, Knox said.
“The city reserves the right to make an adjustment there because it would call for a different rate structure,” the mayor said, “which, I believe, everybody understands is fair and proper. This is nothing new. We used to provide water and sewer to Ware County residents and property owners at their request (before Ware developed its own water-sewer authority) and it was a routine thing. Inasmuch as they did not pay municipal taxes, we sold it to them with a rate adjustment.”
The conflict began when Nimmer submitted House Bill 523 and it passed in 2015. The legislation de-annexed out of Waycross portions of Pierce County that had been part of the city since the 1980s.
The city filed suit alleging the legislation was unconstitutional and that it was not “appropriately” notified when the bill was submitted. Pierce County and local residents challenged the lawsuit.
Suits and countersuits and rulings appeals ensued until Judge Kelly Brooks ordered the city and county to mediate their differences. An October mediation hearing led to the terms of the agreement and Nimmer issued the amending legislation at the beginning of the current legislative session.