Council not ready to up water rates

Friday, July 16, 2010
Councilman Robin Minor, center, complains to Councilman Hershel Davis, right, chairman of the city water board, about what's behind a proposed water rate hike, as Davis' friend, Wayne Petty, left, looks on.

Lewisburg councilmen aren't ready to increase water rates by $7-8 a month on an average household, according to discussion at City Hall on Tuesday when a July 28 meeting was set to reconsider the utility board's recommendation to raise rates.

"There are some things there that I don't like," Councilman Robin Minor said while recommending the council defer the decision and Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. agreed. "But, I don't want to kill it," Minor said of the pending ordinance to increase water rates.

In May, Lewisburg's Water and Wastewater Board of Directors knew a rate hike had to be recommended because the sewage treatment plant's capacity must be doubled to comply with U.S. Clean Water Act regulations enforced by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That will cost about $13 million and so debt service costs will go up, too. Financing will probably take 20 years.

Minor wrote notes all over a document he got on the proposed water rate hike. The information was from phone calls and consultations on the required expansion of the sewage treatment plant.

"I talked to TDEC, EPA and St. Johns, and I got 500 answers," Minor said.

St. John Engineering in Manchester is the city's consulting engineer.

City Water Superintendent Kenneth Carr was at the Tuesday night meeting of the City Council on a request from City Hall so he'd be present to answer questions. Ultimately, the whole thing was postponed about two weeks when the council will have a workshop to talk about it and then a voting session when the panel might approve the water rate hike on the second of three required votes.

Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart suggested the voting session for that 4:30 p.m. July 28 meeting in City Hall. It's another time residents will have an opportunity to hear reasons for and deliberations toward the proposed rate hike.

The continuing discussion comes some nine months after a council vote to borrow $5 million so the Water and Wastewater Department will be ready to enlarge its sewage treatment plant and, separately, pay off a local bank loan for the Cornersville water system. Lewisburg bought Cornersville's system several years ago. Cornersville experienced financial difficulties after its town administrator was arrested and jailed in connection with money missing from town hall.

As for expansion of Lewisburg's treatment plant, the reasons are well known by officials who acknowledge diluted raw sewage flows from particular manholes when rain is heavy here. Ground water seeps into the collection system and the treatment plant can't handle the increased flow fast enough.

"As long as you have manhole overflows," Carr said of mandated sewage treatment plant expansion, "you're going to do it."

Doubling plant treatment capacity to six million gallons per day is to be completed by December 2011, he said.