By Bob Robinson
Q. When will the surcharge end for customers of North Elizabethton Water Utility District?
A. According to Bryon Trantham, director of the Watauga River Regional Water Authority (WRRWA), “the Capital Improvements Fee (surcharge) will end once the water treatment plant becomes operational in October or November of 2012. Every dime of the water bill will go to (pay) water treatment costs and retiring the debt on construction,” Trantham said.
The total project cost for the construction of the Little Wilbur Dam Water Treatment Plant is approximately $14,672,708. Currently, construction on the project is approximately 83 percent complete, according to Doug Unger of Jacobs, Inc., project engineer.
On July 31, 2012, WRRWA closed on the sale of $8.5 million in bonds to complete construction of the water treatment plant. WRRWA received a lower bond interest rate (4.65 percent) after Elizabethton City Council, by a vote of 4-3, amended a prior agreement with WRRWA and agreed to purchase 300,000 gallons of water per day from WRRWA, up from 200,000 gallons per day, and extend the contract from 20 to 30 years. Mayor Curt Alexander and Councilmen William Carter, Richard Sammons and Richard Tester voted for the new agreement. Vice Mayor Sam Shipley, Councilwoman Nancy Alsup and Councilman Charles LaPorte voted no.
“When the bonds for construction of the water treatment plant are paid off in 30 years, North Elizabethton Water Cooperative, Siam Utility District and South Elizabethton Utility District will be the owners of the Little Wilbur Water Treatment Plant. The City of Elizabethton invested $5 million in construction but does not have ownership,” Trantham said.
WRRWA was created by Private Act of the Tennessee Legislature (Private Acts, 2001, Chapter No. 29, House Bill No. 1979) on behalf of Carter County, Tennessee, and utility districts situated within its confines, namely, the North Elizabethton Water Cooperative, Inc., (incorrectly referred to as North Elizabethton Utility District in the Private Act), First Utility District, Siam Utility District, Hampton Utility District, Roan Mountain Utility District and South Elizabethton Utility District. The Private Act required passage by the Carter County Commission by 2/3rds vote, which was approved unanimously by the 24-member Carter County Commission on April 16, 2011. Since that time, First Utility and Hampton Utility Districts have taken legal steps to opt out of the WRRWA organization.
WRRWA is funded by customer surcharges billed to customers of participating utility districts. According to the State of Tennessee Attorney General Opinion No. 03-01, WRRWA is authorized to impose surcharge fees in order to pay operating expenses. The approval of the boards of directors of the respective utility district or of the county commission is not required.
To date, the monthly surcharges approved by the WRRWA board of directors are as follows:
— Initially approved a 50 cent per connection surcharge, effective May 1, 2003;
— In May 2005, increased the surcharge from 50 cents to $2 per connection, effective July 15, 2005;
— In May 2007, increased the surcharge from $2 to $10 per connection, effective July 2007; and,
— On Aug. 6, 2007, decreased the surcharge from $10 to the current rate of $7 per connection.
The current members of the WRRWA board of directors are Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey; Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander; Jeff Chambers of the South Elizabethton Utility District; Ardin Gentry of the Siam Utility District, secretary; and Johnny Mills of the North Elizabethton Water Cooperative, chairman. For additional information, call Trantham at 543- 2400.
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