Mayor acts to save $2 million

Friday, September 17, 2010

In an attempt to prevent Lewisburg from losing $2 million for its sewage treatment plant, Mayor Barbara Woods has called a special council session this morning to reconsider a water rate hike of about $7 monthly on an average household.

Having read an order from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Woods says she believes that the city no longer has a choice, and so the most economical course of action is to prove to the state that the city will comply and have the money to pay for the treatment plant work.

And that's by raising water rates to get a federal grant that will pay 15.4 percent of the $13 million project, she said in a telephone interview after City Hall was granted a late submission for a legal notice in today's edition of the newspaper announcing the council was scheduled to meet at 7:30 this morning.

Unsure if the circumstances are so "dire" as to risk losing the $2 million, Woods said she was concerned that failure to act could result in the loss of $2 million in federal economic stimulus money toward doubling the city's sewage treatment plant and building a 10 million gallon holding tank for untreated sewage. The tank is needed to regulate flow to the plant when rain seeps into pipes and dilutes wastewater to a volume greater than the plant's capacity.

"I can't predict how the council will vote," said Woods, whose comments revealed her preference for adoption of a recommendation from the Water and Wastewater Board that was set to meet Thursday afternoon.

The mayor also realized she could be the tie-breaker. Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart has refrained from discussing the utility rate hike because the city owns the Cornersville water system and she's that town's attorney.

"I've always believed that if something has to be done, you do it well and as inexpensively as possible," Woods said.

Councilman Ronald McRady on Tuesday night called for a special meeting of city leaders with TDEC officials to see if the city could delay the sewage treatment plant expansion because harsh economic times have made life too difficult for city residents to afford a water rate hike.

Failing that, McRady said the city should turn to state Sen. Bill Ketron and state Rep. Eddie Bass - asking them to override TDEC's order so residents wouldn't face higher household costs.

That, however, could lead to the loss of the $2 million, Woods said.

The state agency's officials explained at headquarters in Nashville several months ago that money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as stimulus funds, could be deposited into the state's revolving loan program and awarded to cities like Lewisburg. Issued as a loan, the money passed through from Congress would not have to be repaid, the officials said. That makes the money a forgivable loan that does not require repayment.

"I'm led to believe that our opportunity to borrow from the state revolving fund (and get a forgivable loan) is gone after Friday," Woods said, relaying her understanding of what the city faces.

Stimulus jobs funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that put hundreds of Marshall County residents to work at business and government jobs are set to end Sept. 30.

Councilman Robin Minor has opposed increasing water rates and on Tuesday he voted with Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. and McRady to resist the treatment plant until residents could afford the rate hike.

Councilman Hershel Davis voted against that. He's the chairman of the Water and Wastewater Board. Stewart abstained.

If there's a tie vote at this morning's meeting, Woods said she didn't think she'd have any choice but to vote for the rate increase.

"I'd like to see us move forward on what needs to be done," the mayor said.

Failing to comply with the state order for sewage treatment plant improvements could result in fines, she said.

"I don't want the city to be fined," Woods said.