Dispute between city, schools over stormwater fees officially ends

Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:02 p.m.

In a decisive vote, the School Board effectively ended litigation between the district and the city of Gainesville over stormwater fees.

The board, in a unanimous vote, adopted an interlocal agreement borne out of hours of mediation with city officials earlier this month.

Deputy Superintendent Sandy Hollinger said the recent mediation proved fruitful after failed mediation with the city in 2010.

“I think by absolutely sitting down and thinking of some very out-of-the-box solutions, we came up with a solution that is very cooperative, collaborative and facilitative,” she said.

The dispute began when the board voted unanimously to stop paying its stormwater fees in late 2009.

At that time and throughout the course of the lawsuit, district officials maintained the district is not required to pay. The Pinellas County school district successfully beat a lawsuit filed by the city of Clearwater after it stopped paying its stormwater fees.

Under the interlocal agreement, the School Board would forfeit millions in already paid stormwater fees while the city would waive all past-due and future fees.

The city would build retention ponds and stormwater management facilities on several school sites in exchange for forfeiting collection of any future fees.

The case, which was set to go to trial next month, was removed from the trial docket last week.

School Board member and former chair Barbara Sharpe thanked all those who worked on the agreement.

“It has been a long time coming, but sometimes it takes running through bushes and woods and everything else before you can see a clear spot,” she said.

Throughout the past year, Sharpe has rebuffed offers to meet with the city, arguing that the city sued the School Board and that mediation had failed in the past. Sharpe also rejected an offer in February 2011 by the city to discuss the issue.

The two bodies didn’t meet until October regarding the stormwater dispute.

The city of Gainesville has not taken a vote on the agreement, but is expected to later this month, said School Board Attorney Susan Seigle. Seigle also represents the Marion County School Board in a similar fight.

School Board member Gunnar Paulson, who advocated for communication between the two governmental bodies, said he was pleased to see a resolution.

“This is a great day for our school district, the city of Gainesville and the people of Alachua County,” he said.

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