Meeting focuses on possible sale of Union Rome sewer district

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 18, 2022

Commissioners continue to look into rates

On Sept. 13, the Lawrence County Commissioners had a public hearing about the possible sale of the Union-Rome sewer district and it lasted just under three hours.

Most were not happy with the idea of the sewer district going from county ownership to a private company.

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That included the first speaker Ron James, who served on the advisory committee for the sewer district for several years.

“I am opposed to that sale,” he said, adding that as a member of the advisory committee and studying its budget and rate structures and thinks there are several proposals that could help with the costs associated with it. “Do I think there will have to be rate increases. Yeah. I think there will have to be some increases. But do I think that it should be left up to a private enterprise what those increases are to be and a private enterprise whose attitude and real want is to make money? There are a profit-making organization first and foremost.”

He said he understood that rates would have to go up to keep the district up to proper standards because no one wants the EPA to take it over.

Commissioner Colton Copley said he appreciated James serving on the advisory board.

He pointed out that some businesses did get small discounts and that difference was not enough to help cover expenses for the district, which James agreed was accurate.

Copley agreed that private business do look to make a profit but bigger companies also had ways of cutting cost by having a team of people or equipment that a public entity can’t do.

And sometimes the county has to hire an outside company to work on a project because they don’t have the necessary equipment.

“I don’t think we can make a blanket statement that a private company that makes a profit has no ability to do it cheaper than a public company because they have other resources that can lower their costs,” Copley said.

He pointed out that the rate suggested by the sewer district advisory committee for the county to break even is higher than the one recommended by Aqua.

James said he didn’t know if that was accurate because their figures are that the county could charge around $70 per month “for now,” while Aqua was proposing going up 25 percent in the first year, which would be $75 a month. And then Aqua proposes to go up 10 percent each year for ten years.

That, he said, means they were looking at an 80 percent rate increase in a decade.

Copley said that it was his understanding that the rate Aqua proposed is $64 the first year. He added that any rates would have to be approved by a public utility commission.

James said he didn’t know if that did have to approved by the commission because it is a sewer system, not a water and sewer system, The commissioners said they would get clarification on that.

Commissioner DeAnna Holliday said the 80 percent rate increase didn’t sound right to her and that the initial rate was $64.

“I think you need to take another look at Aqua’s proposal,” James said.

Copley pointed out that the first proposal was not the final proposal as far as rates.

Holliday thanked James and the advisory board for doing a “deep dive” into the rates and other things and that she had the information in front of her during the meeting.

“The only way we are going to get this right is with communication,” she said. “We appreciate the work you did and we will continue to look into this.”

The full video of the hearing is available on the commissioners’ Facebook page.