County: Clarify WG&L's role in consolidated government

ALBANY -- After spending considerable time last week debating the role of the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission under a proposed unified government, county commissioners decided Monday to ask the city for clarification on their request to restrict assets of the entity to the urban area.

Commissioners are trying to resolve a change to the proposed unified charter offered by the city commission that is designed to keep WG&L -- dubbed by some in the political arena as the cash cow of the city of Albany -- a fringe benefit of consolidation to the residents in the urban services area.

Under the current proposed charter, WG&L would simply exist as another entity of the government of the new Albany-Dougherty County government, with the elected officials burdened with the responsibility of managing its revenues and liabilities in the best interest of the residents countywide.

The issue is that while WG&L provides services to people outside of the corporate limits of the city, the lion's share of their revenues are generated within the municipal city boundaries, which is why its assets and property technically belongs to the city, according to various legal opinions.

In discussions Monday, the commission took up the idea of who pays for WG&L and who should reap its benefits.

"I don't see the point of restricting it (revenues) to the urban area if we're trying to consolidate into one entity," Commissioner Gloria Gaines said. "If the goal is for the Urban area to ultimately expand to the boundaries of the county, services will have to be provided at some point and why limit the new government now?"

To try and reach a compromise, County Attorney Spencer Lee drafted an amendment to the charter. The amendment would initially restrict the new government's ability to distribute the revenues of WG&L outside of the urban area to coincide with the charter provision that limits the new government's ability to spend more than the combined budgets of the county and city at the time of consolidation. But after that initial period, the government would have the authority under home rule to do as they wish.

That would avoid, Chairman Jeff Sinyard said, a scenario where the new government redistributes the revenues from WG&L countywide only to have to raise taxes in the urban district to balance their budget.

But that theory assumes that the city, when they asked for the restriction to the urban district, was talking about WG&L's revenues rather than what they sent over for consideration: their assets.

Commissioner Lamar Hudgins said that in meeting of the charter commission, City Attorney Nathan Davis said at the time that WG&L had no assets of their own. Instead, they all belong to the city of Albany.