Water hike may be higher than expected

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lewisburg's City Council on Wednesday afternoon again delayed its vote on a water rate hike because of questions from the city treasurer; so more calculations were started Thursday morning.

"I'm afraid it's going to be worse than it was the first time," City Manager Eddie Fuller said Thursday afternoon, acknowledging the water department's calculation of a $7-8 monthly increase per household may have been low.

State and federal environmental regulations led to a state order for Lewisburg to double the city sewage treatment plant's capacity. In conjunction with that, a tank is planned to hold wastewater greater than the plant's capacity until flows drop. Sewage flows increase during heavy rainstorms because ground water infiltrates the pipes, thereby adding to the volume of what's flowing to the treatment plant.

The solution has been estimated at a cost of $13 million, a dollar amount that would have to be financed with bonds sold on the national money market. Some of it might be paid for with a state loan with a "forgivable" principal payment made possible by federal stimulus funds. But much of the money would have to be borrowed and, under state law, that debt is to be repaid by utility customers.

As repayment schedules were being reviewed this week, City Treasurer Connie Edde raised questions about when old debt payments stop and whether a state accountant had counted two debts twice when estimating what the utility would have available to pay for the expansion project.

Those questions couldn't be answered Wednesday night, so the council adjourned until answers were available. That led to recalculations Thursday.

However, the special workshop session conducted this week included challenges from Councilman Robin Minor about whether Lewisburg should have purchased the water system in Cornersville and whether a pipeline should have been built along the Lynnville Highway.

Having known for five years that the city faced a $13 million sewage treatment plant project, Minor asked, why did the utility spend money on those projects? The pipeline was to add customers and increase revenue, according to comments at the time the project was approved by the water board. As for buying the Cornersville system, City Water Superintendent Kenneth Carr cited figures showing that the revenue actually increased because the town had been paying wholesale rates and now the residents there pay directly to Lewisburg as if they were customers just beyond the town line.