Legislature to take up Dalton Utilities bond bill again, passed the Senate last year but not the House

In the closing hours of the Georgia legislature's 2019 session, the state House of Representatives narrowly defeated a bill that would have allowed Dalton Utilities to borrow money for electrical assets without a public referendum. The bill had passed the state Senate.

State Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, said he will be trying to get that bill passed again this year.

"It would give them some flexibility," he said in an interview. "But it isn't like there would be no oversight. The City Council would still have to approve any borrowing."

On Monday, the Dalton City Council voted 4-0 to approve a resolution supporting the bill.

Dalton Utilities CEO Tom Bundros told council members that Dalton has the only city-owned electrical utility that has to hold a referendum. The utility does not need voter approval to borrow money for natural gas, water and sewer.

Bundros said if the bill passes, the utility would still need to have the approval of its board, the City Council and a Superior Court judge before it could borrow money for electrical, just as it does for natural gas, water and wastewater.

Council member Gary Crews, the council's liaison to Dalton Utilities, noted after that meeting that the utility's bonds are backed by its revenues and don't incur any taxpayer obligation.

Most of the Whitfield County delegation to the General Assembly supports the bill. State Rep. Jason Ridley, R-Chatsworth, is an exception.

"I don't like the idea of taking away people's right to vote on something," he said in an interview.

But Carpenter said Dalton residents will still have a vote.

"The vote to elect the City Council members, who will have to approve any borrowing," he said. "The legislature borrows money all the time without a referendum. Dalton Utilities borrows money for everything but electricity without a referendum. The people don't get to vote on that. But they get to vote on the people who do make those decisions."

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