GRAY, Georgia (STPNS) --     A workshop last week concerning service delivery areas to be included in the county?s comprehensive plan may have brought up a point of contention between officials of Gray and Jones County.

    The idea of service delivery areas is not to duplicate services, and it has been discussed between the entities in the past.  The current service delivery map was adopted in 1999.

    The county?s service delivery strategy was brought before the board of commissioners February 20 by Rusty Haygood of the Middle Georgia Regional Development Center.

    Haygood explained that the service delivery strategy is part of the updated five-year short-term work program required as a portion of the city and county?s comprehensive plan, which is required to be completed by June 30.  He also emphasized that both the Gray City Council and the Jones County commissioners must agree on the service delivery map.

    The penalty for an uncompleted plan is the loss of state and federal funding by both the city and county.

    The disagreement centers on the area surrounding the construction of a bypass around Gray that has been proposed for more than 15 years and is not yet under way.  The map presented by Haygood was without street names and not easily read, but it appeared that the bypass area was marked as being in the City of Gray?s service delivery area.  Commissioner Larry Childs opposed that assumption.

    The proposed construction of the North Gray Bypass would extend from Highway 18 West south of Clinton to Highway 22 east of Gray.  The total project length is approximately 6.2 miles.

    Haygood said that the service delivery strategy is about each service offered by the city and county, and revisions typically get hung up about water and sewer services.

    The strategy identifies the service, who provides it, where it is provided, and the funding mechanism.

    ?We need to identify the area Jones County intends to provide water and sewer in the future,? Haygood reiterated.

    County Administrator Mike Underwood asked Haygood what would happen if the city and county cannot come to an agreement and was told Gray and Jones County would no longer be in compliance and would not be eligible for funding or permits.  

    Haygood said the entities could take the issue to the court system and a judge would make the decision. ?I don?t recommend that,? he commented.

    Childs said his apprehension stems from conversations with city officials at the last joint meeting with the county.

    ?My concern is that the city has adopted a new policy to require people to annex into the city in order to have city water,? he said.

    Childs questioned the origin of the map and suggested just marking the map with the areas desired by the county, and Haygood reiterated the need for an agreement between the city and county.

    ?It has to be agreed to by both parties,? Haygood stated. ?If one body wants a certain area, it doesn?t mean the other is going to approve.?

Underwood suggested that the next step should be defining what the county wants as a service delivery area and having it presented to the city.

?Then we need a joint meeting to discuss it,? he said.

Childs appeared to be taking opportunity to make a point of his feeling about annexation by the city.

?We are already growing by leaps and bounds. I think we need to send a message that we want them to stay where they are,? the commissioner said. ?We have Wayside and Haddock that both need water.?

Earline Hamilton expressed her concerns that Clinton could be surrounded by the City of Gray and ultimately annexed.

?It?s a long-time concern that if we are surrounded, that will be the end of the historic district,? she said.

Hamilton also noted that Clinton is served by the City of Gray water department because the city used a well in Clinton as one of its first water sources.

Commisioner Mell Merritt pointed out that the only way property is annexed into the city is by request.  Haygood said that it can also happen by legislation; however, there is no record that the city has ever annexed property except by the request of the property owner.

Haygood also said service delivery areas have nothing to do with annexation.

Currently Gray has a policy in place to require covenants with prospective water customers who do not live inside the city. Those covenants state that in exchange for city water, the property owner agrees to annex into the city should the property become contiguous with the city limits.

Sewer is not provided to anyone outside the city limits with the exception of Dames Ferry Elementary School.  The city also has an agreement to handle sewage from Lynn Haven Nursing Home when the sewer line is complete.

Commissioner Bert Liston said he wants to work out the service delivery agreement by the deadline and put the minds of citizens at ease about annexation.

?We want to protect everyone who doesn?t want to be in the city,? Liston said.

The county is planning another workshop for service delivery strategy at 5:30 p.m. March 20 and is inviting Gray?s mayor and council to attend.