​No SUD Rate Increase for 2021

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Nov. 17 board of commissioners meeting, Sewanee Utility District manager Ben Beavers presented the 2021 budget for approval. Beavers introductory remarks stressed the “uncertainty in our financial outlook.” On the revenue side, “success for this budget depends in great deal on the return of the University to residential learning,” Beavers said. On the expense side, Beavers pointed to forecasted 10-15 percent increases for service and material costs. For 2020, SUD expects to finish the year with water sales revenue 8-10 percent below budget. The 2021 budget anticipates a reduction in water sales revenue, although not as severe as in 2020. Beavers recommended no rate increase for 2021. “We can revisit rates midyear if we need to,” Beavers said. “It’s goodwill for our customers to leave the rates as they are.”

The board unanimously approved the budget. Personnel expenses call for filling a currently vacant employee position when things “pick up.” “We’re watching every penny carefully,” Beavers said. The budget anticipates a decrease in grinder pump expenses. “The grinder pumps we have now are repairable rather than throw-away,” Beavers explained.

Big ticket capital improvement expenses include the following: leak detection equipment and surveys ($25,000); a filtration screen device for the wastewater collection system to prevent wipes and masks from clogging and damaging grinder pumps ($125,000); variable frequency drives for high use pumps to decrease energy consumption ($16,000); infrastructure costs for the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) project to narrow Highway 41A ($201,500).

The University has verbally agreed to help offset SUD expenses for the TDOT project. The Sewanee Village initiative, overseen by Frank Gladu, recommends narrowing the highway to calm traffic and make the south side of the highway more accessible. Gladu plans to retire in January. “He [Gladu] wants to solidify our verbal agreement with the University before he leaves,” Beavers said.

Beavers pointed out nearly 30 percent of the capital improvement budget was dedicated to the road project. Being reimbursed by the University would free up funds for other capital improvements.

In other business, the board approved engaging the MG Group accounting firm to generate a series of reports to assist SUD in long-range planning. The reports will include a 10-year historical review, as well as a monthly oversight report. Savings incurred from releasing the firm currently performing monthly oversight will offset the cost of the 10-year review.

SUD is seeking a SUD customer to serve on the board of commissioners. Those interested in serving should contact Beavers at the SUD office. No petition process is required, only nomination by the board. Final selection will be by the vote of SUD customers. The board will approve a slate of nominees at the Tuesday, Dec. 15 meeting. Voting will begin on the first business day of 2021 at the SUD office and continue until the Tuesday, Jan. 19 commissioners meeting.