An intergovernmental agreement could resolve a dispute between the cities of Atlanta and Sandy Springs over local water utility service and rates, says Sandy Springs’ city attorney.

The long-running dispute is headed into binding arbitration, possibly starting in September, as Mayor Rusty Paul previously revealed in his July 9 “State of the City” address.

Most of the water system within Sandy Springs is owned and operated by Atlanta. Sandy Springs City Attorney Dan Lee said the dispute is boiling down to the lack of an intergovernmental agreement, or IGA, about how the system operates.

“The law is clear that you cannot be outside of your jurisdiction in another jurisdiction without an IGA,” Lee said. “The issue is whether Atlanta can provide water service in Sandy Springs and if so, what is the appropriate charge for it.”

“We do not find it appropriate to comment on pending litigation,” said Michael Smith, the press secretary for the Atlanta Mayor’s Office.

Retired 11th Circuit Court Judge Stan Burch will decide the dispute over what Sandy Springs claims is excessive water rates. Burch was appointed as special master to preside over the arbitration, Lee said. The judicial emergency created by COVID-19 has Burch planning to reschedule an August arbitration hearing to September.

Paul said Sandy Springs residents pay $60 for 10,000 gallons of water, while in Roswell, residents pay $25 for the same amount of water from Fulton County.

Lee told the Sandy Springs City Council in 2018 that Atlanta’s rates were artificially inflated. The city had considered attempting to buy the system from Atlanta earlier that year.

Paul said the law states customers can only be charged what it costs to bring the water to the faucet – and a surcharge. He said the source for the city’s water is a section of the Chattahoochee River that is much closer to Sandy Springs than Atlanta, suggesting the cost should be lower. He said Atlanta repairs leaking pipes at times but has made no significant upgrade of the system in decades.

Lee said Georgia law requires all cities and the county to agree via an IGA who will deliver what services, with renewals every 10 years.

An expert hired by Sandy Springs determined $80 million in restorations and additions are needed in the city, Lee said. That study was shared with Atlanta, he said.

If Atlanta enters into an IGA to maintain the system and charge appropriate rates, Sandy Springs would be glad to buy water from it, Lee and Paul said.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.