WILLIAMSON – The Williamson Utility Board held a regular meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss issues surrounding the water rate increase.
Jerry Hurley, a newer member of the Williamson Utility Board, presented Mayor Steven J. Knopp with his own questions concerning the water rate increase. “What is the time frame for repayment?” Hurley asked.
In response, Knopp explained the purpose of the surcharge is to provide a solution to ending Williamson’s $1.2 million dollar debt with Veolia Water.
“The time frame that was anticipated was three years. That was the duration of the surcharge and the purpose of the surcharge was solely to retire the debt that was owed to Veolia under the contract. We chose that period to get us level at the time we were getting to the end of the contract so that we would be able to sit down and have a clear slate to begin negotiations on a new contract,” Knopp said.
Hurley also expressed concern about the debt further accumulating over time. “I’m looking for a short term answer to a long term problem,” Hurley said.
Knopp explained the amount calculated in the rate increase and surcharge would stop continued debt accumulation.
“If we impose the new rate, that people seem determined to stop, it will stop the accumulation. The amount that has been calculated will allow us to begin repayment at a rate that will satisfy the monthly obligation under the contract plus a certain amount set aside every month to retire the excess,” Knopp said.
Knopp also discussed what he considers to be a major concern with Williamson’s contract with Veolia.
“What continues to be worrisome to me is in the contract, there are serious penalty clauses for breech. What we are trying to prevent by doing these negotiations to retire the debt is to avoid triggering an event which would cause the penalty provisions to be taken into effect by Veolia.”
Hurley expressed the need for Williamson to have a clean playing field to gain a better position in a transitioning economy.
“The people in Williamson are resilient but I want a clean playing field. We deserve a clean playing field, not only to a water rate, but the whole city plan,” Hurley said.
According to Hurley, other options can be explored but the main objective is paying off the cities’ debt to Veolia. “We have to get on a payment plan and get on track. If there is another option to bring to the table then bring it to us because we are trying,” Hurley said.
Wallace Dempsey, also a member of the Williamson Utility Board, expressed similar sentiments. “Our heart is with the city. This rate impacts all of us. It does hurt to see that enormous rate but if anyone has any other options, we’re here,” Dempsey said.
Hurley stressed the importance of not acting out of panic. “Sometimes, I think we all panic. We need to sit back, take a breath and endure,” Hurley said.
Knopp explained that the city is working to make up for lost time.
“Even on my last day here, I’m still figuring stuff out and you cannot pick this stuff up in a week or in a month. There is simply too much of it. Fortunately, we have the business end of it apparently covered and we are making up for a lot of lost time. We have to have a sensible, professional approach to retire the debt or we will have a system that is unable to function,” Knopp said.
At this meeting, a group of concerned citizens presented the Utility Board with a list of questions. The Utility Board plans to address these questions at the next scheduled meeting when all board members are present. Board members Butch Beckett and Lacy Muncy were not in attendance at the Thursday meeting.
“We will entertain these questions and try to get the answers,” Hurley said.
The next Williamson Utility Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 24 at 3:30 p.m.
(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected], or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2279.)