Water Decision Is A No Brainer For Signal Mountain - And Response (2)

Sunday, July 8, 2018
Thanks for finally publishing a direct comparison of rates that TAW and WRUD will change for water for the Town of Signal Mountain. 
 
According to "Water Issue Still Not Settled On Signal Mountain" by Gail Perry published last Friday, the final cost for 4,000 gallons is:
 
Tennessee American Water - $21.81 
Walden's Ridge Utility District - $38.69

The WRUD rate is almost double the TAW rate.  We've been drinking the water supplied by TAW with no ill effects.  This decision is a no brainer for Town Council.
 
Geoffrey Hipp

* * *

It’s not a no brainer.  The issues around the future of the Signal Mountain water system are complicated and require professional guidance.  We should not expect a volunteer council to be able to fully evaluate the four choices before them:  1) Upgrade our water system and continue to manage it.  2) Keep our water system and outsource its management, 3) Sell to WRUD, a local public utility, or 4) Sell to Tennessee American, a for-profit company. 

For this reason Councilmember Dan Landrum is calling for assistance from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS).  MTAS  exists, because elected officials and municipal staff simply don’t have expertise in all matters that come before them.  A portion of our taxes supports the organization and they, in turn, support municipalities with technical assistance.  

At first glance, it may seem like a simple decision.   Selling the water system would generate a substantial influx of cash, which would bring our fund balance back to where it should be.  But what are the longterm ramifications of selling our water infrastructure?  Is it wise to give up control over the quality and timing of upgrades and repairs and of  water customers’ rates? 

I have other questions:  Has the town thoroughly considered WRUD’s proposal for operating and maintaining the system under our ownership?    Has the town assessed the merits of such an arrangement?  How much would Tennessee American’s “capital recovery riders” add to our water bill?  What are the pros and cons of selling to a locally owned public utility vs. to a for-profit corporation?  But the first question to answer is: why should we sell they system at all?

MTAS can help us answer some of these questions, and I truly hope that at Monday’s council meeting at 6:30 the council will accept Dan Landrum’s suggestion to engage MTAS’s help.    I hope they will welcome such assistance before making such a consequential decision about the future of our water system.  It’s really not a no-brainer.  Please come to Monday’s meeting to express your support for an MTAS study. 

Annette Allen
Signal Mountain

* * *

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Shorten the reins and sit down hard.  That’s one method of stopping a runaway horse.  There’s not a lot of reasoning to be done.

People are different.  You have to try reason.  We’re going to try reason for just a little longer regarding the sale of OUR water infrastructure.  Those of you, in the Town of Signal Mountain – including Chris Howley, Bob Spalding, and Dick Gee who is moving any day, and the town manager, don’t own the system that is on the auction block. They are served by WRUD (Gee will be soon.) They will not be affected by a sale except that they’ll have all those pretty dollars to play with. Those of us who are paying our water bills to the Town of Signal Mountain will be affected depending on which option three of them (that’s all it takes, three votes) decides to choose.  One of the council members, at the last agenda meeting, was under the impression that the decision to sell was already made.  She may very well have been right.

This process has been talked about for three years, but only recently were we treated to two presentations about the viability of our system, our asset.  A junior business major at UTC’s College of Business could have spotted the errors in the presentation had he/she been armed with a few of the documents that we have. Or, that junior might have asked some of the right questions, at the very least. I know Chris Howley says he’s extrapolated the numbers out (with pencil and paper no less) and the system is too expensive to keep, but if you extrapolate bad numbers and assumptions from here on out they are still bad numbers and assumptions.  That junior would know that.

We want it done right.  A member of our group asked that a presentation be put on Monday night’s agenda to ask for the creation of a Water System Viability Committee.  The three council members in attendance denied that request according to our town attorney, Phil Noblett.  I didn’t exactly hear a vote, but then, things are kind of loosey goosey up here these days.  The other thing I didn’t hear, and the recording has been run and rerun to verify, is a vote to add a resolution to the Monday night agenda to sell our infrastructure, and two ordinances, one to sell to WRUD and one to sell to TAWC.  Those appeared when the agenda came out on Thursday.  We were informed  that Chris Howley unilaterally decided that the notice was sufficient and voila, he added it to the agenda.  That would be less than three business days’ notice to sell a major town asset.  If he’d been awarding another honor tree, we probably could have overlooked it. 

So, please come.  Since we couldn’t get our presentation on the agenda, we may have to publish what we know just like I’m doing here.  We’ll get into the technical help that had been offered to the town (and not taken.)  We’ll get into which town employee has been pushing for a sale to TAWC from the beginning.  We have reports and gosh darn we’d like to share them with everyone.

To Pruett’s and their customers.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I know you’re tired of seeing us, we’re tired too, but we are a committed bunch.  Some of us have rearranged our summers to deal with this stuff and would love to get back to our lives before clipboards, and pens, late night computer research, and endless calls.  We love the people of this mountain and their knowledge and wit and warmth – it’s makes it easier.  We promise, there will come a time when the only thing in the front of Pruett’s will be shopping carts and tables.

On second thought, maybe it was easier to reason with horses.

Melissa and David Cantrell
Signal Mountain



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