​SUD to Replace Old Cast Iron Water Lines; Considers Changes to Pension Plan

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Oct. 24 meeting of the Board of Commissioners of the Sewanee Utility District of Franklin and Marion Counties, the board reviewed a 2018 Capital Improvements Budget calling for replacement of old cast iron water lines in central Sewanee. The board also considered changes to the employee pension plan.
In introducing the budget discussion, SUD manager Ben Beavers said, “SUD has been spending a lot on the waste water collection system, and it would be a good time to switch the focus to water distribution.”
In the past 15 years SUD has spent more than $3 million on wastewater collection, initially due to state mandates. “Pretty much all the necessary work is done,” Beavers noted.
Outside Sewanee most of the water lines were installed after 1983 and are PVC, Beavers said, but within central Sewanee there are still many old cast iron water lines. Beavers recommended replacing the cast iron water lines on South Carolina Avenue (cost, $150,000), Florida Avenue (cost, $123,000), and Tennessee Avenue (cost, $310,000), and increasing the line size from six inch to eight inches on South Carolina and Tennessee avenues.
“I looked at where we would get the biggest bang for our buck,” Beavers said, stressing the benefits of improved water quality and flow and decreased water loss.
Of the three service lines, the Tennessee Ave. line has the greatest potential for leaks, both because it is older and serves more customers, so has more connections.
Beavers recommended spreading the upgrade over a three-year period, replacing the South Carolina line in 2018, Florida in 2019, and Tennessee in 2020. Alternatively, he proposed SUD could replace both the South Carolina and Florida lines in one year. Combining the projects could save SUD as much as 15 percent, although it could result in the utility showing a small loss.
SUD President Charlie Smith favored replacing the lines on both South Carolina and Florida in 2018 and “leaving a gap” the following year, 2019.
Noting the need for replacing SUD’s tractor, estimated cost, $35,000-$40,000, Beavers suggested budgeting the tractor for the 2019 gap year.
Beavers will consult with LTS Construction about how much SUD could expect to save by combining the projects. He will also calculate the various capital improvement scenarios both with and without a rate increase. Beavers did not foresee any changes in the operating budget. He anticipates presenting the 2018 budget for the board’s approval at the next meeting on Nov. 28.
Turning to the resolution which would authorize transferring the employee 457 pension plan administered by Met Life to a 457 plan administered by the state, Beavers said a representative from the state talked to SUD employees, and the employees favored the change, which would result in a 42 percent reduction in administrative fees. The state also offers a 401(k) plan, and employees could participate in both the 457 and 401(k) plans, contributing 6 percent of their earnings to each, although SUD would only match a total of 6 percent, the same contribution the utility makes now.
The state plan also featured the benefit of shifting fiduciary responsibility from the board to the state.
“I can recommend we make the change,” Beavers said, “but I would feel much better if a disinterested party would review the 36-page resolution before SUD commits to the plan.”
“I’ll read through it,” Smith said. He also will confer with others who might offer insight on the document.
“The target date for making the state plan available to employees is Jan. 1,” Beavers said, “but there’s no drawback if we start later.”
The board approved the request from a University student in the Water Resources and Policy class to hold a Pharmaceuticals Dropoff event from 1–4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11, in the SUD parking lot. The event’s goal is to encourage community members to visit the Constructed Wetlands, a joint research project by the University of the South and the University of Georgia investigating the effectiveness of wetlands in treating wastewater. Visitors will be treated to coffee and snacks, and have an opportunity to tour the wetland. The Sewanee Police Department will conduct the pharmaceuticals’ collection.
“There’s an agency in Franklin County that collects unused pharmaceuticals and distributes them to folks who can’t afford needed medications,” Smith said.
People often returned unused medications to doctors’ offices, Commissioner Ronnie Hoosier noted. “They hand out a lot of free medications.”
“Let’s see if we can’t come up with a better alternative than throwing the pharmaceuticals collected in the incinerator,” Beavers said.
Smith will investigate the options.
Commissioner Randall Henley said he’d received several phone calls asking about projected completion of the Midway Pressure Booster Station, a project SUD undertook four years ago.
Smith explained the language in the Duck River easement implied the property owner’s entire tract was encumbered, not just the section needed for the project. Negotiations are underway to amend the language to suit all parties.
Two SUD commissioner seats will come open for election in January. The board is charged with nominating three candidates for each open seat. Customers interested in serving should contact Beavers at (931) 598-5611. Commissioners receive a small stipend for serving and are required to attend one meeting a month and to complete 12 hours of commissioner training during their first year of service.