MUS talks sewer system takeover
The proposed takeover of the city’s wastewater systems by Morristown Utility Systems on Jan. 1, 2014 is becoming a regular subject of discussion with regard to both financial and project planning at the utility.
During their regular monthly meeting held Sept. 26, the five Morristown Utilities Commission board members were presented with the draft of the 2013 fiscal year audit prepared by Connor O’Donohue and Michelle Huffman of Coulter and Justus, P.C.
“We had no significant difficulties encountered during the audit; we had no disagreements with management and no other audit findings,” O’Donohue said. He added the most significant change from the 2012 audit was the receipt of $1.5 million from the Tennessee Valley Authority for capacity reimbursement.
“As a whole, the systems were generally the same as in the prior year, all producing income and producing income at the levels they did in prior years,” O’Donohue said.
After questions from board members, O’Donohue advised that the 2014 financial statements, as per state requirements, will include power, water, broadband and sewer for a 12-month period, even though the MUS will not take over the sewer, or wastewater, until fiscal mid-term. A note can be added to the financials to explain the situation.
“According to the state, Morristown has these four funds anyway,” he said. “It is like moving departments, it is not like a business acquisition.”
In the possible instance wastewater showing a loss, disclosure can be included in the 2014 MUS financials —”I think it is a prudent disclosure, quite frankly,” O’Donohue said.
MUS Assistant General Manager Clark Rucker praised the efforts of the auditors and staff members, adding that TVA requested the audit be complete at the end of October.
“This was a lot of good work by a lot of people,” he said.
Wastewater was also the subject of a major project involving SKADA installation announced by Mike Howard, who is currently straddling roles with the city and MUS for the transition.
“When we started operating the wastewater pumps, our agreement was that anything under $10,000 we handle it (pump repair, etc.), then we turn around and it put it in the city’s monthly bill,” Howard said. “If it was over $10,000 you (the board) would have to approve it; we bid it out; approve it, and then I take it to city council for their approval.
“This is a project that the city started back last spring, back when we were talking about taking the pump stations under operation,” he said.
The city’s current high-level alarm system involves a call box that calls a designated number when the water levels are too high. If the call is made a water systems employee must physically visit the site to verify any problem.
“You are operating in the dark,” Howard said. “Versus us, we have the SKADA system. Our SKADA system monitors the pumps in real time; we are watching them constantly. Wastewater wants the SKADA system on their pumps. We have the knowledge and are used to operating them, so we will proceed with this project.”
Howard reported that the MUS water station’s system has not been upgraded since 2003 and is due for a major overhaul. Howard and his team have worked with Lamar Associates to obtain a set of specs to bid the MUS pump station upgrades in a two-part bid with the city’s requested SKADA system. The combined low bid was $713,000, offered by Southern Construction, Inc.
“$60,000 of that belongs to the (MUS) water system,” Howard said. He added that portion of the bid would be to set up and rebuild the MUS program. The money will come from MUS funds approved by MUC in spring 2013.
The project will allow both the water and wastewater departments to work from a common platform, according to Howard. “Basically, you mount one box on each pump station and pass the information back through FiberNet, back to the plant”
MUS staff will be able to view information including water levels, flow ranges and amps used — “It gives us a lot more control to see what’s going on in the system,” Howard said.
The contract will not be issued until it is approved by the Morristown City Council. The project, less the $60,000 to be funded by MUS, will be funded from city bonds already in existence.
The board approved to present the Chairman’s Appreciation Award to telecom employee Pat Waggoner.
“She’s really the behind the scenes person that you may not know about, but you couldn’t survive as a business unit without her,” Telecom Manager George Benjamin said. “All the data base administration, all the fiber manager piece, if it wasn’t for all that work that she does, we wouldn’t be able to function on a daily basis. I can’t comment enough on how professional she is. She also covers the after hours technical support, has for years now. She is just a wonderful lady to deal with on the phone, as far as her disposition her technical ability, being able to resolve calls.
The next meeting of the board was scheduled for Oct. 24. The board regularly meets on the third Thursday of every month.
-By Glenna Howington, Tribune Staff Writer