The City of Rincon held a meeting Wednesday evening hoping to bring the county and the other municipalities together in a last attempt to reach an agreement on where to draw the lines for service delivery.
But only representatives of Rincon and Guyton were present.
Effingham County officials sent a letter to Rincon, outlining their reasons for not attending.
“In the absence of any new proposal, and in light of Rincon’s request for mediation, the Board does not see any reason to attend Rincon’s unilaterally scheduled meeting,” the letter from commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler stated. “As … discussed in previous correspondence, there does not seem to be any basis to delay mediation.”
Rincon Council member Ken Baxley told Guyton officials the mediation issue also will affect Guyton and Springfield.
“At this point, I think the county’s kind of forcing the issue that mediation’s the only option right now,” he said.
Springfield officials have said they are satisfied with their proposed service delivery areas.
Baxley said Rincon’s future growth is limited because the city is bounded by the Industrial Development Authority property to the west, wetlands to the east and Springfield to the north.
“We can’t go west because that’s IDA property,” he said. “It would never be residential property because it’s industrial-commercial. We’ve got the swamp land out to the east. And of course, Springfield’s right above us here.”
Rincon Mayor Ken Lee expressed disappointment at the county’s decision not to attend the meeting.
Council member Paul Wendelken said the dilemma over service delivery lines is not hard to find, noting that cities and counties around the state were disagreeing over service delivery areas.
“Don’t think that we are the only ones with this problem,” he said.
Baxley said it appears the county wants to hinder Rincon’s growth. He added that if Rincon grows, that helps the county to grow and that is good for all involved.
“That’s how we feel,” he said.
Baxley also wondered why the county is offering a smaller service area to Rincon than it has to the other municipalities.
“Guyton and Springfield both have areas larger than what they’re offering us,” he said, “and the question that needs to be asked of them is why?”
There was some discussion about Rincon’s philosophy of requiring annexation in order to have service. Guyton Mayor Michael Garvin asked if it might be more advantageous in instances where annexation was not requested to simply charge a different – a higher – fee rate for service outside Rincon’s limits.
He asked if Rincon could be more relaxed on the annexation requirement and Councilman Baxley said it could certainly be a negotiating point.
“We could have discussed these things together with the county,” Lee said, “if they had been here tonight.”
One more try
Garvin suggested putting together one more letter to the county, detailing areas of possible compromise by Rincon. It was also suggested that the letter delineate other areas in which the city had worked with the county up to this point.
“My bottom line has always been the taxpayer,” Garvin said.
Guyton interim city manager Randy Alexander also suggested just asking the county why they have been so adamant in drawing the lines as they have.
“The purpose of House Bill 49 is to prevent duplication of services,” Wendelken said. “And when the county’s running lines almost within sight of Rincon’s current service area, then it defeats the whole purpose of the HB49.”
Who drives service delivery?
One final bit of discussion centered on the way, officials said, developers have had the ability to decide for themselves who they wanted to provide them service.
Garvin called this a “friends and family” plan and said that the developers have been calling the shots on who provides service for too long. He said the governments should make those decisions based on proximity, ability and economic efficiency.
“I’m not trying to really get in the fight,” Garvin said. “My main objective’s that we do what’s right for the taxpayers. It’s taxpayers’ money, and it just disappoints me that they’re not here to represent themselves. We properly sought to try to at least figure something out among ourselves that would’ve satisfied everybody involved, so we wouldn’t have to even go to mediation.”
The county’s contention
County Administrator, David Crawley said that based on Rincon’s last letter to the county, it seemed clear that they were headed to mediation, and the county felt that would be the best way to work through these issues.
He said the two biggest areas of contention between the county and Rincon were Rincon’s annexation requirement and the fact that they want to extend service to areas where the county already has existing infrastructure. He did say, however, that there are still areas that could be negotiated between the two parties.
“The county’s never been opposed to any of the cities growing in any way, shape or form,” he said, “but annexation can’t be used as a hammer.”
Crawley said if the county receives another letter from Rincon with something different from the last one the commissioners likely would take it under advisement.
Coastal Regional Commission Executive Director Allen Burns was also on hand for the proceedings.
The county and municipalities have until Oct. 31 to resolve the service delivery area.