By Crystal Burns
Rip the bandage off at once or peel it back slowly?
Trenton Light & Water Utility Board members grappled with needed wastewater (sewer) rate increases at its meeting Friday, ultimately voting unanimously to add a 35-percent hike to the already-planned 20-percent increase on Oct. 1.
“We’re over the barrel on every bit of it,” said Alderman Rickey Graves. “We have no alternatives.”
The Board of Aldermen serves as the utility board. As aldermen, they must pass two readings of an ordinance to set the new rates before the increases will go into affect.
“There’s no doubt we need an increase,” said Jenny Corbin, Trenton Light & Water interim general manager. “We need to have it well in place before Fiscal Year ‘20.”
Corbin said she and Mayor Ricky Jackson initially discussed incremental increases beginning with 20 percent in October, 15 percent in January 2019, 15-20 percent in July 2019, and 12 percent in October 2019. Corbin said seeing the estimated extra operating expenses for the new wastewater treatment plant, a $10M Sequencing Batch Reactor currently under construction on N. College St., changed her mind.
The 35-percent increase would raise $341,062 in annual revenue, and starting in Oct. 1 this year would give the wastewater department a full year to collect the new rate to tackle the extra operating expenses, which Corbin said are conservatively estimated at $207,864 in Fiscal Year 2019. The already planned 20-percent rate hike and a planned 12-percent increase in Fiscal Year 20 are to fund the debt on the new plant. Customers have already seen a total of 40 percent increases to their sewer bills raised in increments of 20 percent in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
“We have really worked hard on this, with many phone calls, meetings, and double-checking numbers; we know the dollar amounts are huge but we feel that the estimates are as good as we can get.” Corbin said. “I’m sorry.”
Trenton Light & Water leaders thought they had a contract for $28,800 (FY ’19) in place with Jackson Energy Authority (JEA) to provide a certified SBR operator to run the new Trenton plant for about a year so that at least one of Trenton Light & Water’s certified operators could obtain their Class III certification. Corbin said the state requires a person to work on the SBR for a year before he/she can seek certification.
JEA had planned to provide a certified operator to Trenton Light & Water five days a week, but the state has agreed to cut that time to three days a week. However, JEA may not follow through. Corbin said that could dramatically raise the startup cost. She said she is waiting to hear from JEA.
Projected revenue for the wastewater department in the coming fiscal year is $6,356,710 with expenditures estimated at $6,546,657. The department would use cash reserves to cover the $189,947 deficit.
Projected revenue for the electric department is $11,690,131 with expenditures estimated at $11,887,173. The department would use cash reserves to cover the $197,042 deficit.
Projected revenue for the water department is $949,103 with expenditures estimated at $741,097.
The board unanimously approved all three budgets.
The board also approved spending just under $12,000 for relays at the Fruitland Substation to be replaced by Fisher Arnold Engineering (formerly MidSouth Utility Consultants). Corbin said the project is included in the new budget.
New headquarters – In discussion about building a new headquarters on site of the current one, board members said all options are on the table and they would consider renovating pending the results of the haz/mat report.
“We owe it to the community to keep costs down,” Alderperson Dona Leadbetter said.
GM interviews – The board planned to interview three general manager candidates Monday: Bob Moore, Stewart Steel Protection Corp.; Jonathan Dodd, Tennessee Dept. of Transportation; and Joe Wamble, job training and safety manager for the State of Tennessee. A fourth candidate, Clinton Allen, environment restoration program manager at Ft. Campbell, Ky., will be interviewed later.