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County, Rincon likely headed to mediation
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With just days to go before the Oct. 31 deadline extension allowed by the state Department of Community Affairs, the city of Rincon has delivered a new proposal for service delivery strategy to Effingham County officials.

The county had decided not to be part of a meeting a week ago that Rincon called to try and work out remaining issues, because they said Rincon had not come up with any new proposal regarding disputed service delivery issues. Late Monday, County Administrator David Crawley said the commissioners were approving their letter in response. He said he expected it to briefly state that the county thought the best move at this point would be to go on to court-ordered mediation over the issues in order to avoid any penalties that might be incurred by additional delays.

In this newest letter to the county, Rincon Mayor Ken Lee, said, “The Rincon city council, at the suggestion of several council members and other guests in attendance at that meeting, is writing this letter and proposal to note what issues and concerns affect the city of Rincon, and how the city recommends that these issues be resolved before the deadline extension of October 31, 2009.”

One of the recommendations made at that meeting by Guyton Mayor Michael Garvin was for Rincon to adopt a more flexible position about its requirement for annexation in order to receive city services. After several pleas from Garvin to relax this, there was nothing in Rincon’s newest proposal to signal a change.

Rincon’s insistence on annexation is one of the stumbling blocks between the city and the county.

“The county’s never been opposed to any of the cities growing in any way, shape or form,” Crawley said last week. “But annexation can’t be used as a hammer.”

Rincon’s newest proposal gives up what it regards as unusable “swampland” to the northeast of the city but asks that the county draw the lines 2 miles out from the existing Rincon city limits. In the letter, the mayor says that, “the city of Rincon is interested in providing those services in an efficient and cost effective manner to those unincorporated areas immediately outside the city limits of Rincon. The county is planning to lay pipes, almost on the borders of the Rincon city limits, at a high, long-term investment cost to all of the citizens of Effingham County, into areas that are currently undeveloped or underdeveloped, and which can better be supplied and provided services by the city of Rincon. The County’s plan to put in infrastructure, in and around the city limits of Rincon, makes it hard for the city of Rincon to obtain the necessary easements from the county to cross those laid pipes in order to access and provide services to other outlying properties.”

In the letter, Lee said that only the area immediately around the city is an issue and that it should be managed and have services provided by the city.

“Effingham County should approve and maintain a 2-mile moving buffer zone around the Rincon city limits as the city expands, as a set-aside for extended service delivery to any new improvement areas where the county does not already have and provide services and infrastructure within that buffer zone,” the letter continued.

Crawley took issue with the map that Rincon offered.

“The map takes in both county and Springfield infrastructure, so we still have an issue,” he said.

Crawley said mediation might be the best avenue to take right now. He cited the possibility of the loss of qualified local government status unless going to mediation stayed any such penalties.

Rincon officials said the boundary the city drew over existing Springfield water and sewer lines in its latest proposal shouldn’t be construed as wanting to take that over.

“What we did was draw a simple 2 mile line around the city, just to show what the buffer area would look like,” Rincon City Manager Michael Phillips said. “It doesn’t mean that we want that from Springfield’s area. It just means that we need a starting point to sit down with the county and negotiate.”

Rincon also proposed having the county provide a master meter on the water main to be located at Goshen Road and the CSX Railroad tracks, and that the cost of the meter and installation would be borne by the city.  Rincon also proposed to purchase and pay off the original cost of any county water or sewer infrastructure already in the Rincon service delivery area.

“The city of Rincon will provide water, sewer, wastewater, and other services to the prescribed Rincon Service Delivery Area, which includes the city limits of Rincon and the 2-mile moving buffer around those city limits,” the letter said.

In a new move, Rincon also suggested negotiating an arrangement with the county to pipe and provide wastewater from some west side locations to the county’s west side wastewater treatment plant, “as a cost-savings to the citizens of Rincon, and as an effort to assist the county in being able to pay for the operations and maintenance costs of the west side (wastewater treatment) facility.” Rincon also asked in the letter to be allowed to “cross any water or sewer lines to provide services to those outlying areas in need. The city and county should be able to give reasonable consideration to any existing infrastructure in the notes 2-mile buffer area.”

The city sees the lines originally drawn by the county to be restrictive of future growth, while the county has already spent a great deal of money and time in building service delivery infrastructure, in some cases because the city declined to do it. In the case of the Grandview development, the developers did not want to be annexed into the city due to the industrial nature of their tenants.

The letter asked the county to approve these requests by 5 p.m. on Monday in order to avoid mediation.