Those advocating that the town of Signal Mountain turn its water system over to Tennessee American Water Company spoke at a public hearing on Thursday night, while others favored the Walden's Ridge Utility District.
Tennessee American Water, the local supplier of water for the Town of Signal Mountain for 93 years, will bring $1 million in new revenues to support the priorities for the community.
Val Armstrong, president of Tennessee American, said, "In the RFP (Request for Proposal) that Tennessee American Water submitted to the Town Council, one exclusive benefit was that the company would become a new taxpayer and provide funds that can be used to support community initiatives.
“As a partner with Signal Mountain, we know the benefit of having additional resources that can be applied to critical issues. Tennessee American is solely in the position to offer additional support for the local community. We will bring added value to our 93 year-long relationship.”
She said Tennessee American Water proposed a Signal Mountain value proposition of $11.2 million based on a decision by the Town Council on existing water company property.
“Our purchase option brings long lasting benefits to the community,” said Ms. Armstrong. “The 10-year value to Signal Mountain ranges from $10.4 million to $11.2 million. The value includes $1 million that comes from being a new taxpayer. This only applies to the Tennessee American proposal.”
She said Tennessee American Water’s tax payment for Signal Mountain comes from the payment of property taxes, gross receipt taxes and payroll taxes over the 10-year period. For comparison purposes, since 1995 Tennessee American Water has paid approximately $27 million in Hamilton County and $21 million in Chattanooga property taxes. This 23-year period provides a snapshot in time of Tennessee American Water’s 130-year history in the community as a taxpayer., it was stated.
Ms. Armstrong said, "Tennessee American Water has partnered with The Town of Signal Mountain for 93 years to provide high-quality water to Signal Mountain families and businesses. Tennessee American Water contributes in the communities we serve by volunteering with local organizations, investing in water infrastructure and through local property taxes. Tennessee American Water employees are passionate about their work and bring decades of experience to our local water operations. For over 130 years, our water comes from the Tennessee River and is filtered as part of the treatment process in our award-winning facility."
Citizens of Be Vocal. Choose Local - a committee formed after the town issued a request for proposals for its water system - urged the town to choose Walden’s Ridge Utility District (WRUD). Speaking in favor of WRUD, citizens said its water comes from an aquifer requiring far less treatment, has local customer service on the mountain and is not a for-profit utility.
“You’ve heard from Lone Oak Utility District about their issues with Tennessee American, and you’ve heard from me about why going with Tennessee American would be problematic,” said Eugenia Allderdice, co-chair of Be Vocal. Choose Local., who submitted a question at the public hearing. “I ask you again, ‘Why would we even consider Tennessee American when our sister towns right here on the mountain ended their agreements with them?’ Walden and Lone Oak determined that Tennessee American wasn’t the best choice for their communities, and it isn’t the best choice for Signal Mountain either. We choose Walden’s Ridge Utility District.”
She said WRUD has offered to buy the system for $3.6 million or manage the system if the town decides to go in that direction. Tennessee American Water Company (TAWC) has offered $3.4 million to buy the system.
“The difference in water quality between WRUD and Tennessee American should not be ignored,” said Dave Evans, co-chair of Be Vocal. Choose Local. “Tennessee American water has eight times the total trihalomethanes (TTHM) than WRUD’s water. TTHM is a by-product of the chlorination process. Tennessee American’s levels are just a little more than 12 percent below the limit allowed by law and roughly eight times more than WRUD. If we want the highest quality water for families on Signal Mountain, then the clear choice is WRUD.”
WRUD’s plan is to switch the Town of Signal Mountain’s water supply to Hixson Utility District, where WRUD gets its water, which is aquifer water. In a recent report, Hixson Utility District had only 8.8 parts per billion of TTHM, while TAWC had 73 parts per billion, about eight times as much. Applicable law limits TTHM levels in drinking water to 80 parts per billion, it was claimed.
The WRUD group said, "Both proposals submitted to the Town of Signal Mountain outline not raising rates for five years. However, unlike TAWC rates, which go before the Tennessee Public Utility Commission (TPUC) and could go up, the local WRUD board of commissioners has total discretion in deciding rates. In addition, TAWC, as stated in its proposal, adds capital riders to customers’ bills, which are extra fees added onto each bill.
"TAWC and WRUD are both offering employment to all qualified existing Signal Mountain water department employees. WRUD has offered to grant the Town of Signal Mountain a seat on its board of commissioners. As far as customer service, WRUD’s office is on Signal Mountain and offers local, 24/7 customer service."
The Town of Signal Mountain has scheduled two more meetings to hear from citizens - March 28 and April 10 - both at 6:30 p.m. at the gym located at 1111 Ridgeway Ave. The planning commission is expected to give a recommendation on April 5, and then, the town council is scheduled to vote on the recommendation and selected proposal on April 9.