Water Board May Have to Raise Rates to Meet Debt Ratio Covenant

February 20, 2019

The water board as it sat at its Feb. 15 meeting, from left clockwise: Water Authority assistant manager Sherri Walker, board members H.A. McKaig and Eddie Cantrell, Water Authority manager Doug Anderton, members Dr. Billy Pullen and Travis McDaniel.


The changes made to the governing board of the Dade Water Authority, or so-called water board, by a joint resolution of the Dade and Trenton governments have not yet gone into effect—that’s in the hands of the Georgia government, which must pass local legislation to make it so—but at last Friday’s regular February meeting, there were already plenty of changes.


For one thing, County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley, who under the current setup also chairs the water board, but who will be removed from that capacity by the local legislation, had removed himself preemptively on Friday to attend to a family matter. The meeting was chaired instead by board member Eddie Cantrell. For another, there was a fresh, younger face on the board as Travis McDaniel took over from Charles Breedlove. 


After the local legislation becomes effective, the water board will choose its own chairman. Another change that is coming, coincidentally, is that the board must hire a new water company manager to replace Doug Anderton, who is retiring after 48 years in that capacity. Members Cantrell and H.A. McKaig said they'd winnowed candidates for the top job down to four they plan to meet with, and that they would bring two or maybe three before the entire board with their recommendations next month. Assistant manager Sherri Walker, who applied for the job, said later she hadn't been informed whether or not she'd made the cut.


Ms. Walker during her monthly financial report informed the board that the water company's debt-to-income ratio was getting dangerously close to the line to comply with creditors' requirements. The company's actual ratio is 1.13, she said, while the ratio required by its revenue bond lender is 1.10. GEFA (the Georgia Environmental Facility Authority), which leant the water company the $400,000 it paid toward a $500,000 piece of property for Dade's controversial Lookout Creek reservoir, requires a 1.05 ratio, said Ms. Walker.


"Right now we're getting really close to needing to do something about it," said Ms. Walker. In earlier discussions, that something was named as a rate increase--but none was announced at the Feb. 15 meeting.


The board briefly discussed where it was in the legislative process of changing its makeup. Manager Anderton said the Georgia Legislature took up such local acts during the last couple of weeks of a session as some of the last items on the agenda. "Last time it got changed, it was signed in May," added assistant manager Walker (right). That, she clarified later, was May of 2010, when the board was reshuffled to put the county executive in the chairman's seat.


Among the issues that precipitated the change back then were a sewer mostly in Walker County that Dade found itself the sole owner of after a contractor the board had partnered with went belly-up; the pay water board members voted themselves, which was four times that of any other Dade board; and water hydrants all over the county that didn't in fact dispense water.


Water hydrants have been an issue this time as well, especially within the Trenton city limits: City employee Ansel Smith reported at last month's meeting that six Trenton hydrants were nonfunctional. Doug Anderton said that four of those had now been fixed. "We're still waiting for them to meet with us about the two in the south end," said Anderton, explaining that the hydrants couldn't go in the places they'd been before because of recent construction. By "them," he meant the city of Trenton, and the board vowed to get right on that, with McKaig saying the board would take the lead on finding locations for the two southside hydrants.


Also discussed was the matter of coordinating with Dade's volunteer fire departments about hydrant testing. H.A. McKaig, who had met with the fire chiefs, asked if they could report online, and Ms. Walker said that would be fine. And in this new spirit of openness and coordination, Cantrell said the water board would try henceforth to meet with the community at large twice a year or so. "I think that's a good move," he said.


The board briefly revisited the matter of getting a hydrant in the West Brow community working. The matter had been brought to its attention multiple times over they years, last year by John Deffenbaugh, formerly Dade's representative in the Georgia Statehouse. Now Anderton mentioned an option to go through the old air force base atop Lookout, which he said would be cheaper.


The board also took up the question of returning to private ownership land it had used decades ago for a holding tank on Lookout. "That's one of the few things  that are before my time," said Anderton. He explained that a 25,000-gallon tank on the site had once supplied water for all of the water company's Lookout customers but that it had long since been replaced by one double the size at Covenant College. "We can never use it for a tank site again," he said. The plot was only one-third of an acre, he said.


The board decided to return the site to the family who owned the contiguous land, the Hursts, but some research was needed first. "If it was given to us, I'm in favor of giving it back, but if we bought it, we might have to sell it," said Cantrell. 


The Dade water board meets at 8 a.m. on the third Friday of each month in the county Administrative Building. The next meeting is on March 15.


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