WILLIAMSON – Michael D. Griffith, accountant for the Williamson Utility Board, presented an update at the Williamson Utility Board meeting Thursday, Oct. 22, to inform the board and public about the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) ongoing investigation.
Griffith said, “You are currently under review by the PSC for the water rates. The PSC will determine the rates. We have actually asked them for assistance in dealing with the Mountain Water District and now it looks like it will be dealt with one way or the other. That is something good. It has been a thorn in the side of the city that your rates have gone up over the years and that rate (Mountain Water District rate) has not gone up.”
Griffith continued saying, “The case that is before the PSC will do several things. For one, it will establish what the commission will allow you to operate going forward. I understand you have been making some headway in paying that down. I think that is great. It will only help what that rate will be. When I first established a recommended rate to you and the city at the time we had estimated that you would be up to 1.4 million when those rates would kick in.”
Williamson Mayor Robert Carlton said, “The most recent bill reflects that even after payments we have ongoing monthly charges that are accruing so the current balance is $1,046,803.”
Griffith responded, “That is going to be very helpful in the ultimate rate.”
Griffith continued his update saying, “The rate case is proceeding. We are going back and forth a little with the PSC. One of the things we have been going back and forth with now is that the PSC has issued a request for the city to do a whole lot of work on your behalf. We have been opposing it because we don’t think the statute requires that the city pay me or another accountant to do this. My intent is that I do not want you to pay me for something that we are not required to do. They (the PSC) need to do it.”
Another point Griffith mentioned was that based on his professional opinion, he felt that no evidence of wrong doing could be found.
Griffith said, “The mayor asked me to bring you up to speed on a few particular issues. I am also a forensic accountant. I investigate embezzlement, fraud, mishandling funds and those kinds of issues. The former mayor asked me to look into the utility board situation. I did to a limited extend because there wasn’t a specific issue. “
“What I found is that I didn’t see anything significant that jumped out of me as evidence of wrong doing. I saw some sloppiness in accounting records. The biggest issue is the Veolia debt. I’m not aware of any money that has been misappropriated,” Griffith continued.
After the presentation, Teresa McCune, member of the Williamson Concerned Citizens group, had additional questions concerning the ongoing investigation with the PSC. “I’m just confused about a few things. I have been following the filings on the PSC web page. On Oct. 13, on page three the attorney for the PSC on the initial memo talks about how the city has not cooperated with giving the PSC the information it needs to validate the rate increases. I’m concerned about that. “
She raised the question again at the Williamson City Council meeting held later that evening.
McCune said, “Linda Bouvette who is the attorney assigned by the PSC to our case filed what is called the Staff’s initial memo. Everything that is filed on our case, you can get on the internet on the PSC website and read it.”
McCune read from page three of the initial memo which states, “The financial data provided by the City provides little if any justification for the rate increase. The City provided a single cash flow statement with unexplained adjustments to revenues, operations, and maintenance, debt service, etc. The City has been reluctant to provide any explanation of the adjustments to the cash flow statement, to prepare and submit a bill analysis or file any additional financial data that would assist Staff in reviewing the City’s proposed rates. Further, the City suggested in its Response to Staff’s motion to toll the statutory time period, that Staff should consider basing its evaluation on the recently submitted 2015 Annual Report rather than the 2014 Annual Report upon which it relied to determine its rate increase.
Staff is concerned that the City is unable to justify the rates it adopted and seeks to impose upon its rate payers. Its reluctance to provide any additional information requested by Staff and its suggestion that Staff use the 2015 Annual Report data to complete its review raises the concern that the City knows it is unable to justify this large increase in water rates. If the financial information requested is not provided pursuant to the data requests served on Sept. 24, 2015 and due on Oct. 14, 2015, then Staff will have little or no choice but to recommend to the Commission that the proposed rates adopted to the city be voided or the statutory period be tolled until such time as the City submits sufficient financial information, including the financial information requested by Staff, to justify its proposed rates.”
After reading the document filed by the PSC attorney McCune said, “I think it is fair that the citizens know what is going on with this. It is public knowledge. I attended the utility board meeting and I heard the city accountant talk. I didn’t hear any of this information about unexplained adjustments to revenue and that sounds pretty important. When will this information be provided to the PSC as they have requested?”
Carlton responded, “We are working with Mr. Rodecker who is council for the city on the rate increase and he is in the process of providing the information that the PSC has requested. He is seeking it from third parties as well as the utility records. In addition, the PSC has been looking at the records and obtaining the information directly. They were in the utility records for several days.”
The next Williamson Utility Board meeting will be Thursday, Nov. 5 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.)