BY DAVID FISHER
The Gleason Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved an increase in the City’s water rates during Monday night’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting.
The Board voted to increase the water rate by 3.0 percent, in addition to charging a $5 maintenance fee each month. Since the sewer rate is set at 110 percent of the water rate, the cost for sewer service will also increase. However, the cost for garbage service is not included in the tax hike.
Board members expressed differing opinions on the price hikes.
Alderman Wade Cook inquired about the water rate study discussed at previous meetings.
Mayor Charles Anderson said the study cannot be done until after the audit of the city’s financial records for the past three years are completed and a plan of action is developed.
“The Comptroller has advised us to raise the rates a small amount, now, rather than have a larger rate increase later,” the mayor said.
Alderman Cook argued against increasing the water rates until the audit study is completed. He stated 3.0 percent may not be sufficient and, if so, it would result in raising the water rates again in the near future in order to comply with state requirements. Cook added it would be difficult to explain it to the taxpayers.
Alderman Mike Bennett agreed, saying it would be better to wait for the audit to be completed to avoid two water rate increases back-to-back, which he opposed.
When asked about the estimated time for completion of the audit, City Attorney Beau Pemberton said it might be 30 days or longer.
Mayor Anderson stated once the audit is completed, the water rate study will begin, but it probably won’t be completed until sometime next year.
“I would rather do it one time with real numbers,” Cook said.
“I agree, but I’m trying to please the Comptroller’s Office,” Mayor Anderson said. “This town has been in a reactive mode for decades, and it’s time to get in a proactive mode.”
Mayor Anderson explained municipalities are required by law to charge whatever is necessary for the water and sewer systems to be self-sufficient without using money coming from the general fund. If the City fails to do so, the State Comptroller’s Office has the authority to set the rates, which could be much higher than what the City Board would deem necessary.
Mayor Anderson reminded the aldermen that it was only two months ago when representatives of the Utilities Division of the State Comptroller’s Office addressed the Board concerning the need for the City of Gleason to charge water rates high enough to cover the cost of providing water and sewer service for its citizens.
During that meeting, Ross Colona, technical secretary for the Utilities Division of the State Comptroller’s Office, Division of Local Finance, said, “The Tennessee Association of Utility Districts recommends the City of Gleason implement an automatic rate increase of 3.0 percent to 4.0 percent, or whatever the consumer price index happens to be at the time. Because inflation is soaring and prices are going through the roof, the city’s costs are rising, and the rates can’t stay the same.”
Ross encouraged the Board to be proactive rather than reactive. He suggested implementing a yearly, automatic utility rate hike to prevent having larger increases spaced farther apart.
Mayor Anderson stated funds generated by the 3.0 percent water rate hike will be used to provide water and sewer service. He explained the $5 maintenance fee will be earmarked for water tank upkeep and repairs, which will cost approximately $250,000 per tank. The $5 maintenance fee will generate around $3,500 per month, or $42,000 annually. However, Mayor Anderson stated, if the city is awarded a grant it has applied for, it might be possible to eliminate the $5 maintenance fee.
“Our city engineer has advised us to do the bare minimum of repairs to the City’s three water tanks, which amounts to less than $5,000 each,” Mayor Anderson said.
“We’re told there will be a bipartisan infrastructure program that will pay for major water tank repairs. Our water tanks need to be painted on the inside and out and there are structural deficiencies that need to be corrected. The handrails are not the right height, and there are other items that need to be brought up to Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. In FY 2022-2023 we’ll be working to get another grant to pay for our water tank repairs.
Additionally, the mayor mentioned that the altitude regulator valve on one of the water tanks is not functioning properly. When the valve malfunctions, it allows the water to continue flowing after the tank is full and causes the water to spill out onto the ground, wasting water and running onto a nearby private property.
Each time the water department is notified the tank has overflowed, a city employee must manually turn off the pump at the water plant. The mayor said the water department employees are attempting to adjust the controls to correct the problem.
Mayor Anderson stated water tank maintenance, which is a major capital project, is set up on a five-year cycle.
He noted $1.6 million in TDEC grant funding will be spent for wastewater infrastructure improvements and to purchase electronic water meters, which means there will not be enough money left over to cover the cost of water tank maintenance.
To get a general idea regarding Gleason’s financial status, the FY 2022-2023 budget projects Water and Sewer Fund revenues are estimated to be $491,907 and expenditures are projected at $485,120, leaving a fund balance of $6,787.
When it came to a vote, the 3.0 percent water rate increase and $5 maintenance fee passed 4-1. Aldermen Tommy Hodges, Mike Bennett and Keith Radford, along with and Mayor Anderson, voted in favor of the increase, and Alderman Wade Cook voted against it.