WG&L no longer an issue in merger

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- Dougherty County leaders averted a possible showdown with their counterparts at the Albany City Commission on Monday by narrowly agreeing to a stipulation that would change language in a unified government charter affecting the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission.

In a 4-3 vote, the Dougherty County Commission decided to allow a recommendation made by the City Commission for all assets accrued by WG&L to be confined within the area known as the urban services area, which would include what is now incorporated Albany.

The consensus was viewed by some commissioners as moot, given the fact that the new government -- if created through a referendum by the voters -- would have full authority to decide the fate of WG&L through a charter amendment and that a vote limiting its authority could be changed with little hassle.

"It doesn't protect what the city appears to want to protect," Commissioner Gloria Gaines said.

"We tried to explain that to them to no avail," Commissioner Chuck Lingle said.

After a brief discussion, Chairman Jeff Sinyard called for a consensus vote on whether to adopt the language recommended by the city.

Sinyard and Commissioners John Hayes and Muarlean Edwards joined Lingle in supporting the measure, while Gaines, Commissioner Jack Stone and Vice Chairman Lamar Hudgins voted against it.

In his dissent, Stone said that while he doesn't support the consolidation measure at all, he can't risk it going forward improperly.

"I'm not going to vote for this thing anyway, but if does go up to Atlanta, I want to send one that makes sense and will work," Stone said following the meeting. "It doesn't make any sense to tie this government's hands from resources they may need."

WG&L forwards to the city around $7 million each year and is largely responsible for $90 million in credits that were set aside in anticipation of a deregulation of the utility industry that never occurred.

The issue is one of the last remaining issues left unresolved by either body. The decision Monday will likely move the consolidation process forward, as both governments work to pass a resolution that would send a proposed charter for a new government to the 2010 General Assembly for consideration of a referendum.

If the Legislature approves a unified charter, Albany and Dougherty County voters would have to ratify it in referendums before a new government could be created.