Murray, Chatsworth sue Eton to end intergovernmental agreement
Sep 03, 2014 | 2048 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A lawsuit is pending in Murray County Superior Court filed by the governments of Murray County and the City of Chatsworth.

The plaintiffs are seeking direction from the Court concerning an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Eton which dealt with the installation of sewer services in the city limits of Eton by Chatsworth Waterworks.

All of the parties entered into an agreement with the Murray County Board of Education in May 2002. The agreement states that the entities “are desirous of entering into an agreement for the purposes of establishing and providing water and sewer service to the City of Eton, the facilities of Murray County, Georgia located in the vicinity of Eton, and the public school facilities of the Murray County Board of Education located near Eton.”

The estimated cost of the project was $2,813,867. The Board of Education would pay 16.9 percent and Murray County 83.1 percent. The residential portion of the project was to be paid in part by a grant for $500,000. The remaining funding, estimated to be $10,000, would be paid for from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funding from Murray County and the City of Eton.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs contend:

“The city of Eton has asserted in various forums and through various channels of communication that the availability of water and sewer services from the City of Chatsworth to Murray County is restricted by the agreement. Speficially, the city of Eton is asserting that, pursuant to the terms of the agreement, extension of water and sewer services by the City of Chatsworth to a site in unincorporated Murray County requires annexation of the site into the city of Eton.”

The suit also states that Eton Mayor Billy Cantrell filed an objection to the validation of bonds for the Mattex company located outside the city limits of Eton.

In that motion to intervene, Cantrell said that “asserting the interest, rights and privileges of the City of Eton, (Cantrell) objected that under the agreement ‘no person other than Murray County or the Murray County Board of Education may be served by the Eton sewer extension without annexation into the city of Eton.”

The suit also claims “in essence, the city of Eton is attempting to maintain veto power over extension of water and sewer services to sites in unincorporated Murray County by threatening to block any extension unless the site is annexed into the city of Eton.”

The lawsuit is asking that the Court determine that the agreement is either terminable at will or that Eton’s interpretation of the agreement is incorrect.

There is language in the agreement that the project water and sewer services would be provided exclusively to Eton. The Chatsworth Waterworks maintains ownership of the infrastructure involved in the project.

The city of Eton has released a statement concerning the matter:

“The City of Eton was served on February 25th with a lawsuit filed by the Atlanta attorneys representing Commissioner Pittman of Murray County and the City of Chatsworth on behalf of its Water Department seeking to cancel and declare invalid two intergovernmental agreements entered by the jurisdictions between 2002 and 2004 for acquiring and building a sewer system in the Eton area sometimes referred to as the Eton sewer project. The city of Eton has carefully reviewed this suit and is defending the terms of those Intergovernmental Agreemens.

“The issues raised by Murray County’s and Chatsworth Water Department’s suit arose when Commissioner Pittman led efforts to recruit the Dubai-based investors of Mattex USA Manufacturing LLC to locate a plant in Murray County on a tract of land located right next to the City’s limits. Without consultation with Eton, the plan contemplated Mattex to be served by what is called “Phase Two” of the Eton sewer system while allowing Mattex to avoid annexation into the City of Eton as all other industries have done since completion of the sewer extension.

“Phases 1 and 2 of the Eton sewer project were constructed pursuant to two Intergovernmental Agreements which are tied. Under them, the City of Eton, during the period 2005-2010, acquired easements for and built Phase 2 of the system with a federal grant and substantial funding from its general revenues. This was a significant financial undertaking for a small city. In return the Intergovernmental Agreements provided that while the sewer system will be legally titled, operated and maintained by the City of Chatsworth Water Department, it would be obligated to provide services exclusively to areas and/or entities within the corporate limits of the City of Eton, any facilities of the Murray County Government in the Eton area and the facilities of the Murray County Board of Education in the Eton area. Thereafter, the industries within the Eton area annexed into Eton if they wanted to receive sewer service on either Phase 1 or Phase 2 of the Eton sewer system.

“In summary, the City of Eton submits that the Murray County Commissioner, operating through the Murray County Industrial Development Authority and later the newly created Development Authority of Murray County in recruiting Mattex, has intentionally and wrongfully refused to consider the annexation requirements of the Intergovernmental Agreements and ignored Eton’s valid concerns. For that reason, two public officials of the City of Eton initially objected to Court validation of the Development Authoirty of Murray County $61,000 Revenue Bond (Mattex USA Manufaturing LLC) Series 2013 bond issue until determination of the issue whether annexation was required to enable Mattex to be served by the Eton sewer extension.

“In order to enable the Development Authority of Murray County and Mattex USA Manufacturing LLC to close its bond transaction after they had gotten so extended with it despite failing to consult with the city of Eton on the two Intergovernmental Agreement, the intervenors agreed that the Mattex project could be validated and the bond closed, that parties to the Intergovernmental Agreements not be stopped to claim any monetary damages incurred by any breach of the Intergovernemntal Agreements, and that the Court thereby reserve ruling on the requirements of the Intergovernmental Agreements. The City of Eton viewed this resolution as a fair accomodation to Murray County’s Commissioner and Mattex in these circumstances. The heads of the three governments involved...also signed a non-binding joint statement on December 3, 2013 saying that the Intergovernmental Agreements should be amended to define economic goals, future service extension policies and to bring their Service Delivery Agreement for sewer up to date. The city of Eton submits that this is a far better way of resolving these issues than the litigation that Commissioner Pittman has filed.

“The city of Eton continues to suggest that the issues between the governments over the Intergovernmental Agreements and the annexation requirements which were implemented for all other companies be discussed and resolved amicably by proper amendment to the countywide Service Delivery Strategies Act Agreement taking into account all interests. Eton maintains valid concerns inasmuch as the Mattex project affects Eton’s future growth and land use planning potentially creating an unannexed island on its immediate boundary as well as the fact that its construction has taken a significant toll on its streets with heavy trucks and the noise and posed other environmental concerns to residents of Eton.

“It is the City of Eton’s position that all of these conflicts would have likely been avoided had officials of Murray County and the Chatsworth Water Department been willing to sit down, reasonably listen to someone besides themselves, and renogiate the terms of the Intergovernmental Agreements to find a fair and mutaully beneficial resolution.”

Chatsworth Waterworks General Manager Steve Smith also issued a statement concerning the suit.

“The Chatsworth Waterworks Commission’s (CWWC) goal is to help support the growth of Murray County by providing water and sewer services where it can feasibly be provided to spur new industrial and commercial growth. CWWC does not believe it is in the best interest or the interests of Murray County citizens to limit the service areas for water and sewer, or put restrictions on new industries on where they can locate within Murray County. CWWC will gladly serve and support any new industry that chooses to locate within the city limits of the City of Eton as it will benefit all of Murray County. However, if the new industry chooses to locate outside of the City of Eton, CWWC believes it is our right and our obligation to the citizens of Murray County to serve the new industry from infrastructure we own and maintain regardless of where that infrastructure is located.”