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Construction driving West Wilson UD's costs

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West Wilson General Manager Freddie Weston said the district has around 20,000 customers, using on average, 6,500 gallons of water each month. After taxes, Weston said that amount of water costs $67.11 for their customers. The cost of 5,000 gallons in West Wilsons district equals $51.49.


The approximate 2,900 customers of the Laguardo Utility District pay $48.90 for 5,000 gallons of water, said General Manager Joey Hardin.


Gladeville Utility District, which has approximately 5,600 customers, said General Manager Danny Bledsoe, has an average usage of about 5,000 gallons a month, which costs $46.60 for their customers.


The local districts officials said their rates are structured based on numerous factors from government regulations, construction projects and the cost of treating the water they provide.


The Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Tennessee play a big part in the cost, Weston noted.


He indicated there are many regulations that districts must comply with in order to provide water to paying customers. To comply with regulations, the districts spend money on chemicals and treatment supplies as well as labor costs of treating water.


Bledsoe noted the cost of withdrawing water from the source is a major expense that districts must offset, and in the case of the GUD, indebtedness for past construction projects also affects their rates.


We look at the cost of producing the water itself, and our rates have to be sufficient to cover that debt, Bledsoe said.


For the WWUD, rates have been slightly increasing every year due to recent construction that has forced the district to move water lines along North Mt. Juliet Road, Highway 109 and Highway 70.


Weston pointed out the work being done by the Tennessee Department of Transportation on North Mt. Juliet Road required the district to move water lines at a cost of $8 million.


He said if the district hired a private contractor to handle the job, it could have cost up to $12 million, but they were able to do all of the work in-house. He also pointed to the widening of Hwy. 109 from Hwy. 70 to Interstate 40 as another project that forced the district to move water lines. The project on Hwy. 109 cost the district about $6 million.


The rates have been going up constantly due to the construction, Weston said.


Fees from the districts for meter connections also slightly vary, with West Wilson having the lowest connection fee. It charges $40 for a residential connection while Gladeville and Laguardo each charge $50 for residences.


Recently, concern about non-municipal utility districts and a lack of regulation has arisen, but the local general managers noted they have their finances and rates checked by several entities.


Weston said the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury reviews each districts rates and finances every year. Also, Bledsoe noted the Tennessee Utility Management Review Board looks into the Gladeville districts rates and fees each year.


Weston said non-municipal utility districts are at a disadvantage compared to government-operated utilities. Where government utilities receive not only revenue from water bills, but also taxes generated by their residents, the three local private districts rely solely on their rates to recoup costs.


Every dime that comes in here goes right back into the system, Weston said.


He noted West Wilson keeps its rates at a level sufficient to serve its customers and comply with regulations and cover the cost of capital projects. He said the bill every customer pays each month is the districts only source of income.


While the districts rely on water bills to continue their operation, Bledsoe pointed out the future may be difficult for districts that draw their water from sources controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


West Wilson withdraws its water from the Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake. Gladeville obtains its water from an underground river that was tapped in the 1990s and Laguardo purchases its water from the City of Lebanon and West Wilson Utility District.


Last year, discussions were held between local governments and utilities districts officials and the Corps of Engineers about possible fees to withdraw from the Corps waterways. However, as of right now, no fees have been instituted.


Bledsoe noted that utility districts and government utilities are no longer able to obtain a permit to draw water from the lake.


Bill Peoples, chief of Public Affairs for the Corps of Engineers, Nashville District, said the Corps has had a moratorium on additional withdrawals from Old Hickory Lake since 2009. He added that there was no such moratorium on Percy Priest Lake.


Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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