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Cities win a decision in service suit

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett's cities won a victory in its service delivery dispute with the county.

The decision, which came this week from Judge David Barrett, the Enotah judge selected to hear the dispute, could mean county officials can't charge the different county millage rates for unincorporated residents as for city residents.

County officials hoped to use fees on a number of county services -- from franchise fees to hotel-motel taxes -- to rollback millage rates for people who live in unincorporated areas. But Barrett ruled the roll back can apply only to insurance premium taxes, property taxes, assessments and user fees.

"There's some clarity," said Suwanee Mayor Dave Williams, who has been a leader for the county's 15 cities on the issue. "Now we have the opportunity to work out an agreement that's fair to all the citizens of the county."

County Attorney Karen Thomas said officials disagree with the ruling, which was in the form of a partial summary judgment to the case. Because it does not end the dispute, Thomas said officials are evaluating if an appeal would be appropriate at this time.

But both Williams and Thomas said the ruling may pave the way for officials to return to mediation to try to find a solution.

"We're analyzing what our options are," Thomas said. "The county is open to continuing discussions with the cities."