By Tamas Mondovics
The ongoing drama about local water and sewer rate changes has come to a head last week (Dec. 18), at the council meeting of Mountain City Mayor and Alderman, which ended with the Board’s approval of raising rates based on a recent study and recommendation of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS).
The study itself and the resulting rate change recommendation from the State Water and Wastewater Financing Board came after recent audits found the utility to be operating at a deficit.
Also present during Tuesday’s council meeting was John Dunn, Public Information Officer from the Tennessee Comptrollers Office.
To end the drama and to bring the issue to a close City Council approved to resubmit the original MTAS recommendation, which was a change from the Mayor and Alderman’s earlier submission of its proposed rate-change.
“The November Board order came after Mountain City failed to fully implement the rate adjustment recommendations from MTAS’ Mountain City rate study,” Dunn said meaning, that the state replied with ordering the town to hire a state-approved expert to conduct another service study at the cost of $15,000 paid by the city.
Dunn explained that if Mountain City does not enter into a contract to have a cost of service study performed by December 31, and notify the Board staff of this action by January 15, 2019, (which is now unlikely to happen), the Board’s attorney is under a Board order to issue subpoenas for the full Mountain City Board of Mayor and Alderman to appear in person at the WWFB’s March 14 meeting.
Mayor Parsons did not shy away from voicing his opinion on the outcome and the decision to back paddle by resubmitting the original MTAS recommendation.
“The only comments I have is that while we tried to at least keep some of the water rate increase from our city water customers, the state Comptrollers office and the water finance board did not allow that to happen,” he said.
Parsons explained that the inside city water rates will now increase from the minimum rate of $10.07 to $11.00 in the first part of 2019.
“While increase in the course of a month for household expenses is probably not even a second thought to most people considering how much more we spend weekly just on fuel for our vehicles, it is the principle that we wanted to make a stand in helping our city customers who are already overburdened when it comes to cost of living versus our county customers,” Parsons said. “It costs more for us to provide water for our county customers as most are farther away from the water source.”
Parsons said the board felt the estimated $15,000 that it would have spent for a cost study to be performed would have been wasted, as the cost study would have more than likely resulted in increasing the rates even more than the amount initially proposed from MTAS to cover the expense for the study.
Unfortunately, it is too little too late for members of the Mountain City Council to be excused from appearing before the WWFB in
“The Water and Wastewater Financing Board’s order stands as an official action of the Board. The Board does not meet again until March 14, 2019, at 10 a.m., so there is no opportunity for the Board to reconsider or rescind its order,” Dunn said.
“The Board attorney cannot ignore a Board order,” Dunn said, but provided some room for optimism when he said, “During the March 14 meeting, Mountain City officials will have an opportunity to explain the rate adjustments they have made and provide evidence the new rates are sufficient to financially sustain the water and sewer system going forward.”