Upon the Tennessee Water and Wastewater Financing Board’s review of the Town of Petersburg’s financially distressed water system, the town has been ordered by to comply with several requirements.
Although the Town of Petersburg Water Department’s rates were raised earlier this year, the state board was unable to determine whether current rates are sufficient to address the town’s financial issues. The board supports municipalities, counties, and treatment authorities that operate water and sewer enterprises by ensuring that they are financially self-supporting. The board also establishes the parameters for water accountability.
Petersburg is required to have the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts (TAUD), or another qualified authority, perform a rate study to examine the justification of the discrepancy between rates for customers inside the Town of Petersburg as opposed to those residing outside of the town, or provide a recommendation of one rate.
During the Town of Petersburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s monthly meeting Tuesday, officials voted to have TAUD do the rate study. The cost of the water study is expected to amount to approximately $3,000.
In addition, the order requires the creation of a debt management policy; the creation of a capitalization policy; a review of the financial viability of the town’s personnel costs being paid out of the utility fund, including any changes that might be recommended; the creation of a five-year capital asset budget to be taken from the current capital asset list and addressing anticipated needs; a review of the new customer contract; and a plan to reduce non-revenue water.
By Dec. 31 Petersburg is ordered to send proof that all of its board members have complied with the training requirements set out in Tennessee Code Annotated 7-34-115(j). And before Feb. 28, 2020, the town must submit a completed rate study and proof of implementation or a proposed plan of implementation.
An extension of six months on the deadlines could be granted by the state upon a showing of good cause by the town, according to the board’s order.
Related to the water department, Mayor Logan Jolly said that the town has hired a new employee, Thomas Watson, who has water system experience and has been checking the meters in Petersburg.
Petersburg also received an order to pass the 2020 budget from Ron Queen, financial analyst with the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, Office of State and Local Finance. The comptroller’s office stated that the delay in getting the budget approved has caused a problem with the collection of the property taxes. While the budget was due in July, there have been several adjustments since then, causing the delay. In addition, due to the lack of a quorum, there was no board meeting in October. New board member Ray Pope resigned.
Because of changes made to the proposed budget, it was only approved on its first reading Tuesday. Prior to the meeting, public comment was invited on the 2020 budget, but no comments were made. In September’s board meeting, the preliminary budget was approved by the board. At that time the total for all available funds for the budget totaled approximately $1.5 million and expenses totaled $599,000.
The revised budget shows $1.5 million in available funds but expenses were lowered to nearly $525,000. A second and third and final reading will be the focus of a special called meeting set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12.
In other action, the board voted to hire another full-time police officer from Tullahoma to work the night shift in Petersburg. Although the town has advertised for months, Petersburg has had very few law enforcement officers apply for the position, mainly because of the low pay scale. Chief Matt Griffy stated that a Tullahoma patrolman applied and agreed to work in Petersburg provided there was a guarantee of $15 per hour. The board voted to approve that pay scale. When Griffy was promoted from patrolman to chief, however, the board did not raise his hourly wage at that time. This month the board approved an hourly pay raise of $1 per hour for Griffy.
Chris Sparks, CPA and town recorder, noted that he will have to move some funds and adjust the new budget to accommodate the pay raises. The comptroller’s office stated that the board can amend the budget as many times as necessary.
Also during the meeting, Alliance/United Systems Software, Inc., gave a presentation and proposal for their services. The firm specializes in software development for utilities and local governments. For water systems, the company would provide software and replace all water meters – the new meters would be read through an AMI system. They would also provide leak detection meters, a tablet for wireless meter reading, take care of billing and statements, and provide several other services. This system would require a commitment of more than $300,000, should the town decide to purchase it.
Jolly announced that there will be a public meeting at the Town Hall at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 26, to discuss the Community Development Block Grant program and its guidelines.