Can council disband water board?

Friday, December 17, 2010
Lewisburg resident Bob Lowe confers with City Attorney Steve Broadway about sewer rates during a city council meeting while Councilman Hershel Davis, background, listens to issues raised about the utility board he chairs. Davis represents the ward where Lowe lives.

At least one Lewisburg councilman wants the city attorney to investigate the possibility of the council disbanding the water and sewer board, a request stemming from an on-going dispute over sewer rates.

City resident Bob Lowe pressed the issue again Tuesday night saying people with working septic tanks shouldn't have to pay for sewer service if they're not connected to the system that must expand its sewage treatment plant.

Lowe has made the point several times at City Hall and the water department where that utility's leaders are following state and federal mandates to double the sewage treatment plant's capacity at an estimated cost of $13 million.

A repayment schedule for borrowed money funding the plant expansion caused an 18 percent rate hike, customer reactions and, at the same time, Lowe's campaign and reexamination of what the utility's been doing in recent years.

Again citing the purchase of the Cornersville water system and construction of a water line from Cornersville to the Giles County line along the Lynnville Highway, Councilman Robin Minor complained about spending on those and other projects when it's been known for five years that the treatment plant must be expanded.

"Something is out of order here..." Minor said, then referring to one of the few controls City Hall has over the utility, "...the council is responsible for the 18 percent rate increase" required by the state's enforcement of federal clean water laws.

"If things don't get better, can the council disband the water board?" Minor asked near the close of the council's regularly scheduled meeting when Councilman Hershel Davis, chairman of the water board, sat quietly, taking it all in.

"I would like that investigated," Minor said, turning to City Attorney Steve Broadway who after the meeting said he'd have an answer in time for the council's next monthly meeting which is on Jan. 11.

Wednesday afternoon, Lewisburg Water and Wastewater Department Superintendent Kenneth Carr was consulted and he made a number of observations about the chain of events in City Hall the night before.

"I think it's possible" to disband the utility board, Carr said. "Obviously it was initiated, so anything that can be done, can be undone."

Then he asked about the city attorney's assignment to investigate the possibility of disbanding the board.

"Was it put in the form of a motion?" Carr asked.

It wasn't, and so there was no vote for the lawyer's investigation.

"Then it's invalid," Carr concluded. "Does he (Broadway) work as the discretion of each member, or the body (of the council) as a whole?"

Meanwhile, Carr offered some historical context to a meeting held in City Hall Thursday night as required by regulations of the state's revolving loan fund, a source of money that will provide most of the $13 million needed for the plant expansion.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, also known as federal stimulus money, will pay $2 million of the expansion project's cost, but it's only the latest federal spending on the system that has almost 9,300 customers; 49 percent of which are in the city.

"The rural portion of the Lewisburg Water and Wastewater system was started by the old grid system funded by the federal government with lines to Cornersville, Mooresville Highway, South Berlin Road, Franklin Pike and Fayetteville Highway," Carr said. "This was funded by the federal government and given to the city to serve rural customers."

Carr said this is a bad time to be in a major dispute over the system when money from the State Revolving Loan Fund is being sought by other utilities across the state. The state needs a secure repayment scheduled for the money it will loan and the federal funding it's processing for the city.

"The rate must support the loan," Carr said. "Most of the cities around us do not give you the option on whether you hook on (to the sewer.) You have to."