Carr answers public's questions

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The superintendent of Lewisburg's Water and Wastewater Department, Kenneth Carr, "personally" disagrees with a city policy that he must enforce with regard to sewer fees that became the subject of public discussion during this month's meeting of the City Council.

A resident with city water service and a sewer pipe within 100 feet of the property but no connection is currently charged for sewer service based on the consumption of water purchased for that home's consumption, according to a policy set by the City Council.

"I personally believe that sewer fees for those residents who only have water service and have a sewer close enough for a tap should only pay the minimum monthly fee for sewer service, and not the sum of a bill that's based on water consumption," Carr said during a Friday afternoon interview in his Water Street office.

However, the city's water customers who are close enough for sewer service, but don't have a tap, are charged for sewer service based on their water consumption.

A recommendation to change that was sent to the City Council almost five years ago, but on Jan. 10, 2006, councilmen voted to continue to operate under the system of charges that exists today, Carr said in consultation with the department's consulting engineer.

The council voted to approve the latest revision of utility policies without that change being approved, the superintendent said.

"It is a minor issue from the standpoint of the number of people" who would be affected by the change, Carr said. "I've only had one person come forward who is in that category."

That person is Bob Lowe, one of a few residents who spoke to the City Council last week.

What Lowe, and any other person who is in the same situation, are paying for is "availability," Carr explained.

It's similar to an insurance policy in that unexpected set of circumstances that a septic system fails, then there is an alternative, and Carr has a question.

"If sewer service is available to you and you're paying a user fee, why would you not hook on to the system?" he asked.

There's another reason. There is a covenant, an agreement that's more like a requirement, in the documents created when utility bonds are sold to raise money to pay for utility projects.

"You must generate enough money to pay your bond holders," Carr said.

Yet another set of circumstances exists that raises the prospect of some discontent among city residents. Those are where properties were annexed and the annexation was accomplished without extending all the utilities that the city can provide.

"I can think of two are without sewer," Carr said, naming: Crestview and a short strip of land along South Ellington Parkway.

There's one home that's being converted into a business in that part of the parkway and there's been no complaint about rates. Water service is available, but sewer pipes are too far away, although how that might be provided has been examined by the utility.

Crestview has houses on the north side of Mooresville Pike west of town in the vicinity of where the Pike starts and is no longer West Commerce Street.

Meanwhile, Carr responded to public comments including the question on why water rates were increased when the best-known reason for raising rates is the planned $13 million expansion of the city's sewage treatment plant.

"There has not been a water or sewer rate increase in six years," Carr said. "We raised water and sewer rates at the same time. The water rate hike is not necessarily tied to the sewer rate hike."

A chief reason is the complexity of accounting for the cost of the two utilities' operation.

"I don't know how we could separate the two down to the penny," he continued.

For example, a department employee who's sent to turn water service on at a house may encounter someone else who has a sewer service problem, Carr continued. It's not practical to have servicemen only for water and only for sewer service.

The utility's revenue is allocated for: depreciation, so replacement equipment can be bought; operating costs; and capital expenditures for the water and sewer systems, he said. But when money is spent on trucks and payroll, "It gets complicated."

It's easy to separate costs for medical insurance for employees who work at the two plants, but for those in the field, "It's not an exact science," he said.

"You can make it more exacting than it is, but you would have to hire another person to do that," Carr said.

During the most recent regularly scheduled meeting of the City Council, Councilman Robin Minor said he felt that the Council should get more involved in the situation facing the utility and its customers.