​SUD Approves Budget, Rate Increase; Discontinues Fluoridation

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Nov. 19 meeting, the Sewanee Utility Board of Commissioners approved the 2020 budget, which included a three-fourths of 1 percent rate increase. The board also voted unanimously to discontinue fluoridation.

“A big driving factor in the budget is health care insurance,” SUD Manager Ben Beavers said.

SUD’s health care insurance costs increased 15.3 percent. “I was shocked,” Beavers acknowledged. In preparing the budget, he anticipated an 8 percent increase.

The increase in health care insurance premiums will absorb a portion of the 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise SUD employees receive. Employees’ share of the health care premium is 20 percent. In some cases, the raise will effectively be reduced to 1.6 percent.

The rate increase will mean an average monthly bill increase of $0.76 for water only customers; $1.46 for water and sewer customers; and $2.59 for commercial customers.

“The three-fourths of a percent increase is in line with our common practice of small incremental rate increases rather than waiting until we get in a crisis and increasing rates 20 percent,” Beavers said.

The rate increase will not go into effect until 2020. The bill simplification SUD recently implemented removed the charge categorized as “water and sewer repair and replacement” and included that amount in the charge for gallons used. Only the appearance of the bill has changed, not the amount charged for service.

In August, the board gave notice it would vote to discontinue adding fluoride to treated drinking water.

The head operator at the Water Plant recommended SUD discontinue the practice. The board heard public comments at the October meeting.

“The number of gallons of water SUD produces and the number of people drinking that water don’t add up,” said commissioner Randall Henley before the vote.

Commissioner Art Hanson observed that in addition to the chemical “being rough on our equipment and personnel, fluoride is difficult to remove from the ground water, raising environmental concerns. Fluoride is introduced into the ground water in SUD’s spray fields at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.”

Retired dentist Dr. Robert Childress said he was “disappointed” in the decision to discontinue fluoridation. “I furnished you with 40 pages of information.” Childress cited statistics showing communities saved $38 on health care for every dollar spent on fluoridation.

“My concern is public health and those who can least afford fluoride treatments,” said Sewanee resident Rev. James Turrell.

“I’d like to see a risk management analysis of what happens to customers as a result of discontinuing fluoridation,” Childress said.

“We can do that,” said Board President Charlie Smith.

In other business, Beavers announced the position for Wastewater Treatment Plant operator had been filled.

Commissioner Paul Evans introduced a discussion about non-water related sources of income.

“My understanding is anything not water related must be approved by the University,” Beavers said.

Evans noted that over time “SUD’s costs will increase but our revenue from new water customers will likely remain stagnant.”

In October, the board discussed reducing costs by increasing efficiency. The 2020 budget includes $35,000 for leak detection.

The board is seeking nominations for the office of commissioner. No signature petition is required. Persons interested in serving should contact Beavers at (931) 598-5611. Commissioner Hanson is term limited and cannot seek reelection.

By the charter that established the utility, commissioners cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. The board has asked Tennessee Association of Utility Districts attorney Don Scholes for advice on removing the term limit restriction.

The board meets next Tuesday, Dec. 10, two weeks earlier than usual.