​SUD Discusses Rainfall Impact; Budget Revision Considered

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the March 26 meeting of the Sewanee Utility District Board of Commissioners, SUD manager Ben Beavers updated the board on the impact of recent heavy rainfall. Beavers also brought to the board’s attention a suggestion by the state comptroller’s office that the district revise the 2019 budget.
The district received 11.28 inches of rainfall in February, meaning abnormally high inflow and infiltration of rainwater into the sewer system, increased water feeding into the lagoons, and increased spray field application to keep the lagoons from overflowing.
“We’ve had to be proactive about it,” Beavers said. “It’s eating into our overtime budget, but not enough to hire an additional employee.”
SUD again experienced overflow incidents at a pumping station in the Alto area. In spite of the heavy rainfall, “the pumps should have been able to handle it,” Beavers insisted. Both pumps are brand new and were installed at the same time.
“One pump appears to being overpowering the other and causing it to overheat,” Beavers said. He plans to install additional pressure monitoring gauges and meet with the pump vendor to determine the problem.
Turning to the comptroller’s recommendation, Beavers said in reviewing SUD’s budget the comptroller’s computation projected a $20,000 loss in 2019. “The comptroller figures it a little different than we do, including depreciation and other factors. It’s a red flag to them,” Beavers explained. “To be in violation of state law, SUD’s audit would need to show a loss two years in a row, and I can’t see that happening.”
The comptroller gave SUD the option of leaving the budget as is or revising it to show zero loss or a gain. Beavers budgets conservatively. He proposed two solutions for balancing the budget. One, eliminate the projected loss by increasing the income figures since he anticipates water sales will be higher than the projection. Two, reduce the expense allocated for commissioner health insurance, since no commissioners are opting to insure through SUD.
Beavers will draft budget revisions showing both scenarios and present them to the board for a decision at the April meeting.
Updating the board on the waterline replacement project, Beavers said the rainfall led to erosion issues, especially on Florida Avenue, and the contractor would need to do additional seeding and strawing. Some paving and concrete work remains to be done, as well.
A flooding incident occurred due to contractor error. The contractor is insured and has been in communication with the University, according to Beavers.
Reporting on his research into amending the commissioner selection process, Beavers said, “It will require a political process which starts at the county level, and both counties will need to be on board.” SUD serves both Franklin and Marion counties. SUD is pursuing a remedy to its difficulty finding customers to serve as commissioners.
One solution would be to eliminate term limits which prohibit those willing to serve from serving more than two consecutive terms. Another solution would be increasing the length of the term commissioners served so those willing to serve could serve longer. Both changes would require amending the legislative act, which established the utility and set the rules for commissioner term limits and selection.
SUD is considering polling customers to determine their preference. Broad public support will be needed to amend the act.
The SUD board meets next April 23.