Water authority approves utility surcharges

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

   The Watauga River Regional Water Authority (WRWA) has taken its first step in securing financial backing for a regional water source. The authority unanimously approved a surcharge during its scheduled meeting Monday night.
   A monthly surcharge of .50 cents will be charged per connection in order to offset the cost of getting the project under way. A funding committee recommended the minimum surcharge of .50 cents per customer to the WRWA after reviewing other initial financing options.
   Members of the funding committee estimate the surcharge will result in an annual income of approximately $144,000. WRWA Chairman, Dale Fair stated that the amount would be enough to cover the costs of hiring a director for the water authority.
   "This will help us get a director on board so that the director can do some marketing and get the ball rolling," Fair said. "This is definitely a baby step, but it provides for a director, and for the travel that director may need to get the process started."
   Fair was careful to note the fact the surcharge will not cover the development, or recurring costs connected with the project. He said it is a funding mechanism necessary in order to get the project started.
   The surcharge will be a line item charge, in addition to regular metered charges, on utility water bills throughout the city and county. Each utility district will be required to enter into separate contracts with the water authority, but will not be committed to any further increases in charges in the future.
   The Funding Committee asked that the utilities have the surcharge added to bills by March 31, so that a director for the water authority could be put on payroll in April.
   The hiring of a director is the fourth step in a series of implementation actions recommended by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TDEC). Representatives with the state organization encouraged the local water authority to secure funding for a director, then to hire one as early in the implementation process as possible.
   Fair said the director must begin the research and development process in order for the regional water project to get off the ground.
   "The director must do some research on the website, and start talking to engineers. It will be a full time job if we want to make this happen," Fair said.
   Elizabethton Planning and Development Director, David Ornduff is responsible for securing state and federal grants for the regional water project. He told members of the authority he expects to receive written approval for nearly one million dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency by the end of the week.
   The city and county are responsible for putting up a 45 percent match to the state grant.
   Fair would like to see the financing issues finalized so the authority can move on to other details of the project. "There is more to this than just grants and surcharges. There are some issues when you ask for 16 million gallons of water. They don't just say yes or no," Fair said. "There are some real issues attached to it that we need to address too."
   The WRWA will hold its next meeting March 1, when utilities will be expected to report when they will be able to post the approved surcharges on monthly bills.