Imker goes after WASA

The appointment of volunteers to Peachtree City’s various boards, commissions and authorities — although vetted through an interview process — usually is rubber-stamped by council.

But that was not so Thursday night, as council voted to reject one of the candidates: Tim Meredith, who was to be reappointed to his position on the city’s Water and Sewer Authority.

Councilman Eric Imker put the brakes on Meredith’s reappointment, saying he was seriously concerned about the direction of WASA, specifically citing Meredith’s support for a refinancing of WASA bonds without using the city’s credit rating, which wouldn’t have saved as much money for city ratepayers.

In the end WASA and the City Council agreed to join forces to use the city’s credit rating for an even lower interest rate on the bonds, saving an additional $500,000 over the life of the bonds. That brings the total estimated savings to $1.8 million.

Imker said he was also troubled by WASA “spending a lot of money on public relations and trying to win the hearts of citizens” in what Imker called an attempt to get residents to forget rate increases enacted more than a year ago.

Councilman George Dienhart said he agreed it was not in the city’s best interest to reappoint Meredith, who was not at the council meeting to provide any response to Imker’s criticism.

Because of a quirk in WASA’s bylaws, Meredith will retain his seat for the time being until the city can appoint a replacement. Which will mean reopening the process of seeking interviews, which will take more than a month at the very least.

Mayor Don Haddix cast the sole vote against the rejection of Meredith for the position, saying it will make it more difficult to convince other residents to help the city by volunteering for the sewer board.

WASA is a separate financial arm of the city that operates the city’s sewer system.

Council also held off on naming a second volunteer to another opening on the WASA board, though it appeared that volunteer would be approved handily.

Imker said he is hoping to get the public’s ire focused on the WASA board, which consists of five volunteers. Imker added that he hoped to start a public discussion on the issue, including the rate hike.

Dienhart added that he felt while it wasn’t intentional on the part of WASA’s board, he was “not sold” the board is running it with the citizens’ best interest at heart.

Part of council’s hard feelings when it comes to WASA can be traced to the refinancing deal, as the WASA board initially sought to shake a contractual clause that gives council the final say on any extension of sewer lines beyond the city limits. WASA ultimately dropped that ultimatum.

The rate increase Imker derisively spoke of happened back in October 2010 as most residential customers saw an increase of $20 a month or more, as WASA’s revenue had dropped to the point where it once had to take $400,000 from its reserves to pay its annual debt service. Prior to the refinancing, WASA had to meet an annual debt service of $3.24 million to cover the previous expansion of the city’s sewage treatment capacity.

The drought leading into late 2010 was blamed for much of WASA’s revenue drop, though part of it was related to the loss of one of the city’s largest sewer customers, Photocircuits, which closed in 2006.