​SUD: COVID-19 Budget Planning

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Introducing the budget discussion at the Sept. 22 meeting of the Sewanee Utility District Board of Commissioners, President Charlie Smith said, “It’s going to be hard to make a budget based on predicted revenues.” Along with uncertainties about whether or not University students will be on campus, SUD is grappling with infrastructure expense from the Hwy. 41A road project. In addition to reviewing budgeting strategy and options, the board approved a new Fire Line Policy requiring meters and announced the January commissioner election.

SUD manager Ben Beavers said he planned to use this year’s revenue as a basis for next year. SUD expects to finish the year with an estimated $20,000 loss due to a revenue decrease from the absence of students spring semester and curtailed summer programs. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” Beavers said.

Beavers stressed he budgeted conservatively, figuring on revenue being 8-10 percent below the prior year. “The 2021 budget won’t include any revenue financed capital improvements,” Beavers said. “It will be a year of doing only what we have to do.” SUD will not defer maintenance, Beavers said, as that would cost money in the long run. There will likely be no employee raises. The utility is operating with a skeleton crew and has no plans to replace an employee who recently left.

Smith asked about budgeting for screens to block toilettes and masks clogging spray field pumps at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Beavers presented two options, a screen at the Bob Stewman Road headwaters, estimated cost $100,000, or a screen at the WWTP lagoon headwaters, estimated cost $3,000-$4,000. Commissioner Randall Henley suggested, at the minimum, implementing the less expensive option to avoid replacing pumps ruined by the debris, which could cost over $10,000 per pump. Beavers will get firm figures on the screen costs.

Citing another budget expense, Beavers said he expected supply costs to increase 5-9 percent.

Discussing a possible rate increase, Smith pointed out SUD anticipated an estimated $280,000 in expenses from infrastructure relocation costs incurred due to narrowing Hwy. 41A. The University previously indicated a willingness to help mitigate the expense. “I haven’t heard much from the University, although the last meeting was favorable,” Smith said. Beavers said he had not yet presented the University with final figures, as the bidding on the road project had not yet occurred and the exact cost was not known.

The new Fire Line Policy requires meters on all fire lines. Fire line connections will be subject to a monthly demand fee plus any water used on a monthly basis. Beavers said the need for the policy came to his attention when reviewing SUD’s water loss audit. SUD’s unaccounted for water loss exceeds 30 percent. (Unaccounted for water is water produced at the plant, but not registered as sold on customer meters.) Beavers said the policy would help rule out water loss sources. He also noted fire line connections posed a potential demand on resources, which SUD needed to be prepared to meet. Existing fire-line connections are exempt from the meter requirement, but all new connections and replaced or altered connections will require a meter.

SUD is seeking candidates to run for an at-large seat on the board of commissioners coming open in January. Potential candidates should contact Beavers at the SUD office. Smith currently holds the seat and will seek re-election. Commissioners receive a $50 stipend for each meeting they attend.