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Service delivery dispute: Hearing set for sanctions

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Days after officials missed a court-imposed deadline to settle a service dispute, officials have another deadline before them.

A Feb. 18 hearing has been scheduled to determine if sanctions promised by the judge for missing the Feb. 1 deadline will be immediately imposed after a state agency said the punishment would be delayed for a month.

Gwinnett mayors held a press conference Thursday defending the latest motion in a yearlong dispute with the county. This time, they are asking the judge to remove the qualified local government status from Gwinnett and its cities to force negotiations to resume.

"The cities believe that the duty of the elected officials of Gwinnett County is to reach an agreement rather than have one imposed by a judge," said Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, the chairman of the Gwinnett Municipal Association. "Unfortunately, we see sanctions as the only remedy to resolving this gridlock.

"We believe that the immediate settlement of the SDS litigation is advantageous for all citizens of Gwinnett County. ... The SDS law and the judge's rulings must be followed for there to be tax equity in Gwinnett County."

Gwinnett's chairman has said the punishment -- which would mean that the county and cities lose out on state grants and permits -- isn't necessary to negotiate.

The Feb. 18 hearing is just 10 days before the Georgia Department of Community Affairs has said the sanctions will go into effect.

Phillip Beard, the chairman of the Buford City Commission, said county and city leaders have been in touch, but the communication hasn't been fruitful.

"We talk, but it doesn't get anywhere," Beard said. "They're trying to change the law. ... This is not something the cities made up. We're abiding by the law."