The Georgia Supreme Court officially took up a $400,000 lawsuit between the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission and Glynn County Schools last month.
In this case, there is a guaranteed date to expect a decision, said JWSC legal counsel Charles Dorminy. He pointed to Article 6 of the Georgia Constitution, which states that cases must be decided within a certain time frame.
“Pursuant to the two-term rule in the Supreme Court, which means they have to have a ruling before the second term the case is in the court, we will definitely have an answer before Dec. 2,” Dorminy said.
The Georgia Court of Appeals declined to make a decision in the case on Feb. 6, stating it involved a constitutional question. As such, the Georgia Supreme Court has the sole authority to make a determination, the decision read.
The decision by appeals court judges came in response to Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelly’s ruling in the utility’s favor. The Supreme Court could either issue its own ruling or affirm the superior court’s ruling, Dorminy said.
In the lawsuit originally filed in 2015, the utility alleges the school system hadn’t been paying the debt service portion of its bill. The school system, in its response, claimed the state constitution prohibits it from paying the debt service fee, which it equated to an impact fee.
“(Debt service) charges are not for the actual water or sewer services used in the schools and buildings operated by the (school) district ... These funds are used to make payments on debt for capital improvements already built by the (utility) commission and/or to build a reserve to be used for similar capital improvements in the future,” the school system’s response stated.
It went on to say that state law requires the school system to spend money for educational purposes only, including what’s necessary to run public schools, and exempts schools from paying impact fees.
The JWSC answered in its own filing, stating that impact fees are collected for “one-time, project-specific” purposes, while the utility’s debt service fee is part of its monthly water and sewer rate structure.
Kelly’s ruling, handed down in February 2018, took the utility’s side.
“The court finds that the JWSC charges the district has incurred, including the (debt service) charges, constitute ‘necessary and incidental’ public education expenses authorized under the Georgia Constitution and (state law),” Kelley wrote in his order.
While the utility alleged the school system owed $140,000 in debt service fees when it filed the lawsuit, utility officials say it has since risen to over $400,000 and will continue to rise every month it goes unpaid.
School board attorney Andrew Lakin said there was nothing about the case on which to comment Thursday.
Attorneys with Harbin, Hartley & Hawkins planned to file a request for oral argument in the case as of Thursday, which the Supreme Court may or may not grant.