This story originally appeared in the Nov. 11 issue of the Community Voice. For your connection to the latest news and sports, call 270-384-9454.
“The water district is going to turn into the hospital. Every one of you have heard that, right?”
Utility district manager Lenny Stone got straight to the point as he answered questions from the fiscal court Tuesday night and assured the court that the utility district is on sound financial footing.
Stone, utility board chairman Wid Harris and board member Junior Brown attended the fiscal court meeting at the request of the court. Stone said he was not sure what the court wanted but he was there to answer questions. Stone said the Columbia Adair Utilities District pays its bills, has rates that are similar to other providers in the region, has positive annual audits, and has been able to provide a safe water supply to around 90 percent of the homes in Adair County.
Harris, the board chairman and former magistrate, agreed.
“We are in good shape,” Harris said. “We get audited. We have people looking over our shoulders on everything we do.”
The district currently operates with a $20 million debt, but Stone said the district will always have debt if it continues to grow and maintain what it has.
That debt, he added, is not the reason the district’s customers could be facing major water and sewer rate increases. Stone said PSC has ordered the district to set aside funds to cover depreciation values, and that could translate into 20 percent water rate and 60 percent sewer rate increases.
Stone said board members planned to vote against the rate increases but were told that PSC would remove them from the board if they did. Instead, four members of the board voted to submit paperwork voicing their concerns.
“Our customers can’t handle this. We don’t need this,” Stone said.
If the mandatory rate increases take effect, the funds will not be used to reduce the debt, Stone said. Instead, the district will be required to deposit the funds into a depreciation account.
Those funds would then hurt the district’s chances of receiving funding through Rural Development from low interest or forgivable loans when they plan an expansion or a replacement project.
“They are going to look at our financials and say, ‘You have money in the bank,’” Stone said.
Stone said he is also concerned about the impact rate increases would have on customers.
“We had people who couldn’t pay water bills for six months; they just couldn’t afford it (during the pandemic),” Stone said.
Harris said that he would like to see the utility district board and the fiscal court get along and suggested that one individual is causing strife between the two groups, with someone claiming the district is in bad shape. That isn’t true, he said.
Magistrates asked few questions and Sammy Baker commented on the importance of rural water to the community.
“The economy of Adair County, without the kind of water we have, especially farmers, there’s no way we could have it,” Baker said.
Also, during the meeting, the court reappointed utility district board member David Jones to another four-year term.
Pay Scale Approved
The court approved final reading of a policy adding $1 per hour to the current pay scale for part-time employees and $1.50 to full-time employees.
The court also gave treasurer Melinda Quinn approval to cut premium pay checks for employees when they receive final approval to use ARPA funds. Quinn said the checks of $5,000 to eligible full-time employees and $2,500 for part-time employees should be cut within the next two weeks.
County Judge Executive Gale Cowan said the court needed to rebid financing to fund two sheriff’s vehicles. The original bid was written requesting a loan, but the funds must come as a lease agreement. The court voted to open the bid once again.
The court received a check from the county clerk’s office that brings the total balance for 2020 from the fee-based office to more than $366,000.
The court also approved first reading of a 911 wrecker policy that outlines procedures for calling wreckers when an accident has occurred.
The court gave final approval to make Sneed Lane and RC Lane private passageways.
The court voted to change meeting schedules starting in January. Meetings will be held the second Monday at 6 p.m. and the last Monday at 4 p.m. beginning in 2022.
Magistrates Chris Reeder, Sammy Baker, Harold Burton, Billy Coffey, Greg Caldwell and Terry Hadley were present for the meet- ing. Daryl Flatt did not attend.
By Sharon Burton [email protected]