Put sewer under council control

The Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) recently decided, unilaterally, that it was not responsible to the City Council or to the citizens of Peachtree City.

WASA must be disbanded and their operation brought under Peachtree City’s Department of Public Works.

Seven years ago newly elected Mayor Haddix and the other four council members each took upon themselves the role of being the “council representative” to one of our city’s several commissions and authorities. Our objective was to attend the various meetings and determine if there was anything that the rest of council and the citizens would be interested in. I became the “council rep” to WASA in January 2010.

Having attended several WASA meetings, questions began to arise. I heard about an “arrangement” whereby WASA was not allowed to extend sewer service beyond PTC limits without City Council approval. My next question was obviously, “Where is this written?” I was told, “the bond.” So of course I got a copy of it. The bond in effect at the time was the 2005 WASA bond. There it was on page D-27, “Extension of System Outside Corporate Limits of City”. It’s one simple sentence (I like that).

“The Authority agreed not extend [sic] the System or enter into any contract or commitment to extend the System outside the corporation limits of the City, unless such extension, contract, or commitment is approved by resolution of Council of Peachtree City.”

Where the heck does WASA get off claiming it has a “legal right” to do the opposite? The article in the April 19, 2017 of The Citizen additionally says WASA is, “… answerable to no other political body, including the Peachtree City Council. Neither is the board directly answerable to the voters ….”

That sounds awfully arrogant to me. In my mind, every government body and every authority created by a government body is responsible and answerable to the voters and, in the case of WASA, to their rate-payers.

This is the 100 percent truth of the situation. I’m glad The Citizen had the courage to print it the way it is. Clearly something is wrong. I became aware of it seven years ago and have continued the fight to this day to get WASA included in our city’s Public Works Department.

Six years ago, I began urging City Council to appoint WASA board members who would vote, simultaneously with City Council to disband WASA. This would require an affirmative vote by both Council and WASA. This would be taken to the Georgia state legislature, which would certainly approve it by a consent agenda vote. The Governor would sign it, and it would be official. This is a routine action for the legislature.

For years, City Council ignored my recommendation. WASA board members are appointed by the council to five-year terms. It would therefore take at least three years to appoint board members to create a majority who would vote to disband WASA. We would also need at least three City Council members who would also vote to disband WASA and place it under the city’s Public Works Department. Unanimous votes by each entity would be best when going to the state legislature, but would not be required.

Although I’ve proposed this for over six years, for reasons only council members could tell you, they would not do it.

It has been shown that we could save rate-payers about $1 million per year if certain actions were taken. We CAN lower our rates.

Seven years ago I argued for WASA to renegotiate its bond rate. I was told it couldn’t be done. This was not true. WASA renegotiated the bond a couple of years ago. How does that fit with their earlier statement that it could not be done?

The economy of scale if Public Works and WASA were to share equipment and personnel was pointed out. No longer would WASA be required to buy expensive equipment needed only occasionally. Additionally, maintenance using existing public works personnel would become more efficient.

The city’s stormwater operation includes equipment similar to WASA’s for pipe inspections, digging trenches and replacing pipes. Our public works department maintains all this equipment. Think of how effective it would be to include the sewer equipment as part of the city’s maintenance program instead of WASA having its own separate and expensive maintenance operation. This makes perfect sense to me. It should to anyone reading this.

Additional savings could be achieved by eliminating the duplication of office personnel. WASA has several office positions, identical to those on the city staff, which could be combined. WASA uses the city’s GIS (Geographic Information System) maps, but hires its own employee to use it.

These are simple, basic “Program Management 101” type steps. Our rates can be reduced but only if WASA is brought under Public Works. Why won’t the WASA board members do this? Why do they think only they can manage WASA? Why do they believe they must keep control?

For the longest time our own City Council fought me and refused to go along with bringing WASA under Public Works. I think they finally realize the value of it now.

Don’t get me wrong, the employees at WASA who actually do the work in the field would remain doing exactly what they do. That’s about 22 people in the collection and treatment jobs at WASA. Additionally we would keep the “Collection System” manager and the “Treatment System” manager.

We do not need to be paying for a “General Manager” of WASA, who by the way is the highest compensated government employee in Peachtree City. He is compensated way more than our own City Manager. Why?

I saw his work of producing monthly WASA reports showing the same numbers over and over again. Value added? Of course not. But it sure makes him look busy. Why does the WASA Board think this is okay, and deserving of the highest paid job in PTC?

I make no bones about it. The general manager of WASA is going to fight for his job. I don’t blame him. But then again, we don’t need that position. This is an unnecessary position that can be easily absorbed into the two manager positions mentioned above. That one action alone will save us about $200,000 a year.

WASA board members now crow about how financially sound WASA is. It darn well better be financially sound with the rates they’re charging.

WASA unendingly whines about the loss of Photocircuits 10 years ago, its largest customer at the time. Using this excuse as to why our rates are so high has gotten agonizingly old. If WASA has been unable to adjust, then we should adjust it right out of being its own separate government agency accountable to no one.

By the way, who sets up a government organization accountable to no one? This just does not make any sense to me.

We need a City Council who has the guts to do the right thing. This means appointing WASA board members who will vote with City Council to disband WASA and bring it under our city’s Public Works. Only then will the citizens of Peachtree City have someone to hold accountable (i.e., City Council) and have a voice in their sewer bills.

If City Council is so scared they can’t see managing a 30-person operation such as WASA, then there are ways to provide oversight and obtain recommendations like what has been done with other commissions in the city. This is not brain surgery.

One final note. More than once I used an Open Records Request for WASA position and salary data. This is what Mr. Garlock alluded to in his letter to The Citizen last week. Mr. Garlock finally reached his wits end when the five-member WASA board, general manager and attorney decided it was not prudent to reply to my request honestly, and went through legal gyrations to justify their decision. The general manager made sure his true and total compensation was not revealed.

Yes, WASA broke the law when they refused that request, but it was not in my interest, nor was it in the interest of Peachtree City citizens, to bring a lawsuit that would have only generated legal bills from lawyers on both sides. Those bills would be paid by us, the citizens and by us, the rate-payers.

Mr. Garlock was rightfully abhorrent with the quivering of WASA leadership and its general manager. I do not blame Mr. Garlock for resigning from an organization that has such little integrity that it could not share information with a citizen who had rightfully asked for it.

I fully expect to be attacked by supporters of WASA and its board because of this letter. However, I am committed to doing what I believe is right for Peachtree City and will trust the vast majority of you who read this believe in what I am trying to do.

Nevertheless, WASA must be disbanded and their operation brought under Peachtree City’s Department of Public Works.

Eric Imker
Peachtree City, Ga.