​No SUD Rate Increase in 2019

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the Nov. 27 meeting of Sewanee Utility District (SUD) Board of Commissioners, the board approved the 2019 budget prepared by SUD Manager Ben Beavers. The budget projects a $85,000 surplus for 2019 with no rate increase.
“This year we’re in a good position not to increase rates,” Beavers said. “Eight years ago SUD had some of the highest rates in the area, but now we’re in the 50th percentile.”
Beavers plans to keep the capital improvement outlay “lean” for the next two years with the goal of building up SUD’s cash reserves to pay for future capital improvements without borrowing money. In the forecast for 2021 are two high ticket items, waterline replacement on Tennessee Avenue and membrane replacement at the water treatment plant.
Beavers cited personnel pay as one of a few categories where budgeted expenses increased. “We’re down one employee, so rather than train and pay health care for a new employee, I increased the pay of existing employees who took on additional responsibilities.”
Beavers stressed the budget was “conservative.” On the revenue side the budget calls for a small 1 percent increase in water sales and no increase in sewer sales, reflecting the projected decrease in water and sewer sales for 2018.
“I don’t budget for income from taps,” Beavers noted. “Tap sales can fluctuate from one to 30.”
SUD’s “growth pays for growth” philosophy drives the high cost of new water taps, i.e., more customers increase the demands on the system.
Beavers suggested approaching the University about an agreement allowing SUD to draw water from University owned Lake Dimmick during a drought emergency.
“We could substantially reduce our tap fees,” Beavers said.
Tap fees increased dramatically following the drought of 2007 to cover the cost of the $10,000 per year contract allowing SUD to draw water from Lake Dimmick in a drought emergency, and to pay $0.35 per thousand gallons for the water withdrawn. SUD paid the fee five years and never drew water from Lake Dimmick. In September of 2013 the board decided the $10,000 per year fee was excessive and cancelled the contract.
“We’re not asking for anything,” insisted Commissioner Randall Henley. “If it gets bad enough, we can take the water anyway.”
If SUD had permission to draw water from Lake Dimmick in a drought emergency, the University’s cost for a dorm tap—$91,000—would decrease by half, Beavers said. He also pointed to lower tap-fee benefits to customers in the Jump Off community who would “tie in to SUD if they could afford to.”
Beavers will pursue the discussion with Eric Hartman, who oversees Risk Management for the University.
Updating the board on the water line replacement project, Beavers said, “I’m optimistic they’ll finish close to the end of the year.” He predicted in two weeks all the new lines would be tested allowing for the connection of customers not yet tied in. Cleanup could extend into January depending on the weather.
“The project has gone really well,” Beavers said. “The customers have been very understanding.” SUD financed the project by drawing on cash reserves rather than borrowing money.
Two commissioner seats will come open for election in January, an at-large seat now held by Randall Henley and the single Marion County seat now held by Ronnie Hoosier. Candidates must be SUD customers and, in the case of the Marion County seat, reside in Marion County. The only prerequisite to becoming a candidate is announcing one’s intention to the board. No petition signatures are required. Commissioners receive a $50 per meeting stipend. Individuals interested in seeking election should contact Beavers at (931) 598-5611.
The SUD board meets next on Dec. 18.