Facing a public relations campaign aimed at stopping it, the DeKalb Utility District is determined to continue plans to build its own water treatment plant and has all but secured funding for the project. In fact, a ground breaking for the plant could come as early as July with completion of the facility expected within eighteen months thereafter, about the time the DUD's ten year water service contract with the City of Smithville expires.
The plan has been in the making for years, much to the chagrin of city officials who will see the loss of Smithville's biggest water customer and over a half million dollars in sales each year if this goes through. That's revenue that will have to be made up in the form of higher water rates, according to city officials. But city water customers are not the only ones who will feel the pinch. According to the city's utility engineer, J.R. Wauford, DUD customers will see increases of as much as fifty percent. Last week, the Smithville aldermen voted to hire a public relations firm, the Calvert Street Group, to launch a campaign to get this message out to city and DUD customers.
The DUD currently purchases water from the City of Smithville at $2.00 per thousand gallons and the cost to the DUD increases by five cents per thousand gallons each year during the term of the contract. That agreement expires in 2014. City officials have questioned how the DUD can produce its own water supply cheaper than it can buy it from Smithville.
Officials of the DeKalb Utility District admit that while rate increases are coming to help pay for the new plant, they are not as drastic as city officials have asserted.
In a prepared statement released to WJLE Tuesday, the DeKalb Utility District officials said that "there is a lot of misinformation being circulated in the community about the impact the new water treatment plant construction will have on our customers' rates. Here are the facts":
"The increases will be spaced out over the next three years"
"Our minimum rate for customers, who use 2,000 gallons or less, will rise from as low as $17.50 presently to $19.00 in July, 2012, then to $20.13 in July, 2013 and to $21.75 in July, 2014. That's a total of $4.25 more a month spaced out over a three year period."
"For our average customer (who uses 6,000 gallons per month), their current bill (plus tax) is $44.00. That will rise in July, 2012 to $47.75, then to $51.08 in July 2013 and $54.55 in July, 2014. That's a total increase of over $10.50 a month spaced out over the next three years."
According to the DUD media statement" Customers don't pay their water bills in percentages. They pay them in dollars and cents. We believe once our customers know and understand what is being proposed, they will see why this plan is a good idea and will be a good investment in their future and the community's future."
DUD customers in the Baxter/Silver Point areas, will not be affected by these rate increases, according to the DUD. "Their rates will not be changed in any way by the construction or operation of the new water treatment plant. They will not receive any water service from the new facility, so it would not be fair to make them have to pay for it," according to the DUD media release.
"Our customers in the Baxter/Silver Point areas receive water through a contract the DeKalb Utility District has with the city of Baxter and we agree with those there who feel their water costs are high".
"We have spent tens of thousands of dollars and months of time trying to come up with a financially viable way to provide water to that area by bringing it across the lake from the Smithville side. Unfortunately, we have not been able to identify a plan that won't result in a further increase in water rates, which is not acceptable."
The proposed $10.5 million DUD water treatment plant is to be built off Holmes Creek Road in the Yolanda Hills Drive area, funded through Rural Development and Tennessee Utility Assistance which is a program offered by the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts. The DUD media release states "To finance the project, we are receiving funding from the Rural Development Agency including a $5 million loan and a $1.25 million grant. In addition, we are receiving funding from the TUA of another $4.25 million. We believe these funds, especially the grant monies, combined with the historically very low interest rates we are receiving, will help us to finally move forward with building the water treatment plant".
Wauford, during last week's meeting of the Smithville Mayor and Aldermen, said that the city's newly renovated water treatment plant is more than capable of meeting current and future needs of both Smithville and the DeKalb Utility District for years to come. "You(Smithville) have a four million gallon a day water treatment plant. You're producing about 1.8 million gallons per day. About 700,000 to 800,000 gallons is going to the DeKalb Utility District. Your contract with DUD now gives them the right to buy two million gallons a day which is well within your capability of doing so," said Wauford.
By having its own water treatment plant, Manager Jon Foutch said the DUD is better able to control its own destiny. "We believe building such a facility will give our customers more control over the ongoing costs of their water service and ensure the reliability of that water service in the future," said Foutch.
Two water plants in the county would also be better for all residents, rather than just one plant, he said, especially during times of emergencies. "We believe having our own water treatment plant will benefit all of DeKalb County because it will provide an additional source of water for our community to plan and handle future growth. And, in case of emergencies, it will establish and maintain an interconnected, backup water system for all residents in the area if one of the water services is unavailable," said Foutch.
The DUD already has a water storage agreement with the Corps of Engineers and the authority to pull up to two million gallons per day from the lake and to build the necessary pumping station at near Holmes Creek to supply water to the proposed three million gallon a day treatment plant to be located at the top of the hill.
DUD officials have said that the Corps of Engineers only has a limited amount of water withdrawal remaining from their storage pool availability and if DUD does not act now, it may not again have the opportunity to build a treatment plant in the future. That water availability may go to some other utility or industry. If DUD passes up this opportunity, it could be gone forever.