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Legal bills pass $800,000 in Georgia city-county fight

VALDOSTA – A south Georgia city and county have spent more than $800,000 on legal fees as they fight each other over who has rights to provide services in unincorporated areas.

The Valdosta Daily Times totaled the legal spending in the three-year long dispute between the city of Valdosta and Lowndes County using open records requests.

The two couldn't agree on a revised service delivery agreement, which state law requires every 10 years. The idea is to reduce duplication of services.

Lowndes County wants the city to seek county approval before providing water and sewer to new businesses outside the city limits. County leaders say they believe Valdosta will ultimately annex water and sewer customers into the city limits in areas where it's providing services.

"What is that worth to protect those citizens in the unincorporated area? I'm not sure that you can put a value on that," said Bill Slaughter, chairman of the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners, when asked if the fight has been worth the money.

Valdosta says it shouldn't need county permission to serve businesses that want city water and sewer and officials deny that providing services will necessarily lead to annexation.

"Annexation and delivery of services are two totally separate things," said Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber.

Talks between the two sides have stalled, and Lowndes County unsuccessfully tried to sue the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for saying a 2008 agreement was out of date. Without a valid agreement, the county and its five cities become ineligible for some state funding and permits. Other litigation is still pending in superior court.

Lowndes County rejected a proposal made by Valdosta three weeks ago. Slaughter said county government doesn't plan to make a counter-offer at this time.

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