By JOHN SCOTT COOPER, Staff Writer
The issue of the de-annexation of all Pierce County properties previously part of Waycross to take effect July 1 apparently is headed to court with litigation to begin next week.
City Attorney Rick Currie further discussed with city officials Monday the status of House Bill 523 written by Rep. Chad Nimmer that will push the City of Waycross boundary out of Pierce County as of July 1.
The Waycross administration says Nimmer put his bill through the House without notifying them. City officials found out about the legislation after it was passed and signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal.
The Waycross officials and the city attorney believe the bill is not constitutional and Currie will be filing a motion in a Fulton County court next week attesting to that, he said Monday.
“I will in essence be suing the governor,” said Currie of the legal ramifications of his motion.
City officials still hope to speak with Nimmer and convince the representative to not oppose Waycross’s challenge to strike down HB 523 as unconstitutional. Nimmer has not attended any functions where Waycross officials and the local legislators have met since this issue arose, said Mayor Clarence Billups.
“We had a good meeting with our representatives today (Monday),” Billups said, referencing a confab with city, county and school board officials at which the other state delegates expressed remorse at passing the bill. “Mr. Nimmer was not there. The others said they believe they made a mistake by not researching more before they voted for Nimmer’s bill.”
Public Works Director Wilton Deloach, conducting Monday’s meeting because City Manager Raphel Maddox was out of town, said a meeting with Nimmer was hopefully being set up for Thursday afternoon.
The city has since the 1980s, provided water and sewer services to businesses and residences in the area of Bonneyman Road, just across the county line into Pierce County. Currie reviewed how Waycross had not only annexed but purchased property and built wastewater treatment facilities thereon. Residents in Pierce County and in the corporate limits of Waycross rely on the services provided by this facility.
Some Pierce County residents have gone on record as being happy with city services and the beneficial insurance ratings that come from fire and police protection from Waycross.
Pierce County and Blackshear government officials found reasons to petition Nimmer to write a bill that changes the city’s charter to not include Pierce territory. Nimmer obliged.
Other members of the local legislative caucus voted in favor of the bill.
According to state law, Currie said, the city’s annexation of Pierce County properties was legal, as was its ownership of properties in the county. The law changed after the Pierce County territory was annexed but such annexations were “grandfathered” in (new annexations are not allowed).
In addition, the wastewater purification done in the facility on the Pierce County side of the Satilla River is necessary to keep the city in compliance with the EPD and EPA. But under the law posed under HB 523, the City of Waycross could not operate its facility or provide services to Pierce County residents. That would be an extreme hardship on the city, Currie said — if they obey this state law they would be breaking prevailing state and federal water quality laws.
Earlier in Monday’s meeting, City Engineer Jessica Deal laid out the schedule and cost for painting stripes on 21 miles of Waycross streets, a task commissioners had been urging the staff to get done for quite a while. This led to a bit of haggling between Deal, Hopkins and Commissioner Marian Solomon-Gaines.
Deal recommended extensive use of thermoplastic paint, especially for the center lines of the streets in better condition. She said the higher cost of that paint would be offset by its much longer life. Because they are concerned with having the funds to also pave city streets that are in Hopkins’ words, the “worst of any city I know,” the commissioners argued for conservative use of the thermoplastic paint and more use of the less expensive regular paint. Deal assured them the project cost she was presenting was the “most it could cost” and that the final bill “would be lower” because she planned to use regular paint on lines wherever city staff could repaint with their equipment when the paint begins to wear off.
Commissioners will vote in the meeting at City Hall tonight at 7 whether to accept the recommended striping project as presented by Deal.
The major focus of the commission meeting will be honoring seven high school graduates who are recipients of the Lt. Jeff Little scholarship and eight graduates whose parents work for the City of Waycross.
The commissioners are also to approve the scheduling of public hearings. Among them is a planned meeting to seek public comments on the renaming of Mary Street Park to Pernell Roberts Memorial Park in honor of the deceased Waycross resident, famous actor and activist.
Currie said staff has been researching the history of the park and found that the city had purchased it rather than receiving as a gift. Gifts usually come with stipulations from the donors. He also said they had so far found no record of the city ever officially naming the park “Mary Street Park” or “Folks Park.”