SUD: Finances, Waterline Extension Request, Abandoned Meters

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Feb. 23 board of commissioners meeting, Sewanee Utility District manager Ben Beavers talked about the pandemic-related causes for the district having a negative net change of position for 2020. The board also discussed a request to extend water service to Deep Woods and the need for an abandoned meters policy.

Examining the projected $181,000 change in net position, Beavers compared water and sewer consumption by customer class for 2019 and 2020. For 2020, zero reads were up 30 percent, i.e., the percentage of meters showing no activity in a billing cycle. “People weren’t coming up to their houses. Nobody was here,” Beavers explained. Commercial revenue decreased by 16 percent; tax exempt-revenue (e.g., churches) decreased by 25 percent; residential revenue decreased by 2 percent; St. Andrew’s-Sewanee revenue decreased by 19.5 percent; and University revenue decreased by 28 percent. Across all customer classes, sewer revenue decreased by 17 percent and water sales revenue decreased by 14 percent. SUD also showed a $32,000 decrease in Resource Development tap fees and a $17,000 decrease in interest earnings.

Looking to the future, board President Charlie Smith said a Deep Woods resident asked him about SUD extending water service to the area. Beavers said providing service to Franklin County Deep Woods residents would require 3.5 miles of pipe, and cost $350,000. “It doesn’t make economic sense for us,” Beavers said. Citing the past example of extending water service to Jump Off, Beavers said the line extension “still hasn’t paid for itself.” Beavers said SUD paid off the $68,000 remaining in the Jump Off loan in 2008 to enable the utility to borrow money for the new water plant. Beyond the infrastructure cost of extending water to Deep Woods, Beavers also expressed concern about the added cost to SUD for frequent flushing to avoid water quality issues given the length of the line and low-flow given the small number of customers.

Beavers said if Deep Woods residents chose to self-finance the project, dividing that cost among the 23 parcels would come to $15,000 per customer for infrastructure, plus a $4,100 tap fee. Beavers recommended the board allow Monteagle to serve the Franklin County Deep Woods residents, even though legally the potential customers were in SUD’s district.

Beavers noted at the time of the Jump Off project, developers bought a large number of taps. More than 20 years later, Beavers receives calls from potential customers claiming there is a tap on the property, although the tap has never been used. He anticipates similar problems in Cooley’s Rift where the developers, by contract, pay a dry tap fee on unused taps until 51 percent of the taps in the development are using water. Beavers recommended the board adopt a meter abandonment policy for meters on which a minimum monthly bill or dry tap fee is not being paid. In addition to never used taps, the policy would apply when a house was torn down and water service was discontinued. “There needs to be a reasonable amount of time between when [a homeowner] tears a house down and [future customers] expect water service is still available,” Beavers said. Beavers will research water utility standards on abandoned meter policy.

The board elected officers for 2021: Charlie Smith, president; Doug Cameron, vice president; Paul Evans, secretary.