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Equipment for sewer district gets OK

Plans to purchase new equipment for the Union-Rome Sewer district got a green light from the Lawrence County Commission.

But a proposal to slash sewer rates will go before a citizen advisory committee.

The Lawrence County Commission Thursday agreed to a plan to borrow up to $311,000 over a five-year period and pay back the loan with money collected from late payments and penalties.

Tim Porter, sewer district administrator, said the loan will be used to pay for a new septic tank truck, a compact tractor with back hoe, bucket and mower, a jet and vacuum truck and a full-size back hoe.

It will also pay for the cost of re-casing a sewer system bio cell, and for refitting an old jet truck to make it a dump truck.

Commissioner Jason Stephens said the sewer district can afford a loan to pay for the capital improvements because it’s doing a better job collecting late fees and penalties.

In 1999, the district collected $70,290 in such costs. The next year, late fees and penalties amounted to $146,589.

"In the first half of this year, they collected $132,621. That amount will probably double by the end of the year," Stephens said.

Under the proposal, the district would pay approximately $73,240 annually for five years toward the $311,000 loan.

The county will pursue grant money to pay for a telemetering system and samplers.

The proposal to cut sewer rates would reduce the top tier amount to $28.93 per month.

"Those rates could come down by one or one and a half percent and not miss a beat," Stephens said, noting that the last rate change was in 1989. "This sends a message of efficiency and good management to the customers."

Stephens said such a rate reduction could be reexamined in a couple of years for continued feasibility.

He pointed out that revenue has increased because a majority of people are paying their bills, and because more late fees and penalties are being collected.

He also pointed out that the sewer system has four fewer employees now than in previous years.

"I just don’t want to see the sewer company with a $1 million sitting around," Stephens said.

Such a rate reduction would amount to $25,000 less revenue annually.

Statistics show the district is ending its fiscal years with surpluses. Projections call for the district to end the 2002 fiscal year with a $708,150 carryover. The projected carryover amounts for fiscal years 2003-2006 show positive balances of between $750,000 and $812,000 annually.

But Porter suggested waiting to make a rate cut, especially since the district is building a new plant.

"It’s safer to leave the rates the way they are in case funding doesn’t continue to come in like it has," Porter said. "I tend to be more on the conservative side." Teresa Moore/The Ironton Tribune