Officials explain how water board worksPublished 11:46am Thursday, December 20, 2012
Water rates have been a hot topic in Dadeville for some time, but members of the water and sewer board say having a board is a system that works.
“(Serving on the board) is more of a community service than anything,” said board secretary/treasurer Rush McKelvey. “We’re compensated, but we have to be compensated to be a legal board.”
The five-member board, organized in 2008, meets the second Tuesday of each month at 3:30 p.m.
“We have people who have issues come up, and we discuss it between each other,” McKelvey said. “In the past, it came up to the mayor and one person says, ‘You’re going to do this, and you’re going to do it this way because I think so.’”
Board members are recommended by the board to the city council, and the council makes the appointment, McKelvey said.
He said this format leads to better decision-making by the members, as opposed to the mayor and city council being in charge of the water and sewer.
“A board can be on the offense – thinking ahead about ‘Where are we going to be 15 years from now with our sewer system or water availability,’ stuff like that,” McKelvey said. “With a board, you really take politics out of it. That’s one of the major positive things I see.”
The board currently has one position available, which became open when Mike Ingram vacated his position. Ingram currently serves as the superintendent of utilities.
“I’m over, more or less, the day to day operations,” Ingram said. “I report back to the board if there’s something that needs to be reported to them on a weekly or monthly basis.”
Ingram was selected by the board to fill the role of superintendent.
“We sat down and evaluated the past three years of Mr. Ingram being responsible for bills, the contact person to go to when board members aren’t available – that’s a big deal – and then we looked at how things were handled … as far as being paid on time, managing money (and) managing people,” McKelvey said. “Mr. Ingram was chosen because of his past experience in that position … and we were really pleased with the performance.”
Meetings are presided over by the chairman of the board. The current chairman is Macarthur Moss.
City attorney Robin Reynolds said the board was formed on the recommendation of an auditor to address the debt problems the city was facing. It was also the auditor’s recommendation to raise water rates – something that hadn’t been done in years, despite the increase in the price the city was paying for water.
An ordinance passed at the time called for a gradual increase in water rates – the last of four increases went into effect in January 2012.
“You can’t keep absorbing those rate increases,” Reynolds said. “When (the council members) were told they had to go up on their water, the first concern they had was, ‘We can’t do this all at one time. It’s going to be devastating to people on fixed income.’”
Although many Dadeville citizens have expressed frustration over water rates, Ingram said he thinks some people are just confused by the bill, since “water bills” also include the charges for sewer and garbage.
“It’s actually broken down on the bill, if they look at it,” Ingram said. “Granted, it’s a little bill, but you can still read what your charge for that month on water, sewer and garbage is.”
And when it comes to future water rate increases, McKelvey said that all depends on what the future holds.
“There’s no plan right now to raise rates,” McKelvey said. “But depending on the cost of water from Alexander City will determine future rate increases or decreases.”
McKelvey and Ingram also addressed the idea of offering a lower rate to senior citizens or those on fixed income.
“We would love to give free water to the senior citizens,” McKelvey said. “But previous business actions from the city over the last 20 years have accumulated (so many) expenses that there’s no way that we could give water or discount to one and then expect another to pay a higher amount. That would cause chaos.”
Ingram said the board has $7 million in bonds to pay back. Although the board can writer off a bill or here for customers who have extenuating water problems, since the board operates as a business, the debt precludes the possibility of discounted water.
“We’d love to be able to help,” Ingram said. “But there’s no way with these debts and responsibilities that the board is going to be able to look and say that we can help anybody.”
The board also plans to do future audits to ensure that people are getting the services for which they are paying and are paying for the services they’re getting.
“I understand that everything is going up, but to blame the city of Dadeville for the national economy is crazy,” Reynolds said.