E’town votes to sell water system

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Council vows to remove ‘sentimentality’ from decision

By Marty Finley

Elizabethtown officially is getting out of the water business.

City Council voted 5-1 Monday to develop an agreement to transfer ownership of Elizabethtown’s water treatment and distribution system to Hardin County Water District No. 2 as the majority of the legislative body expressed a reluctance to shed the service.

With rate increases expected to come regardless of their action, most said it is the most prudent course.

Council members vowed to strip sentimentality and emotion out of its decision and cast the most reasoned vote from both a financial and operational standpoint.

The city has provided water services since the mid-1890s, but Councilman Marty Fulkerson said Elizabethtown has only grown its customer base by about 1,900 meters in the past 20 years. City officials have outlined the system’s limitations in building its customer base, which means it has less room to spread costs.

“It’s time to let that baby go,” Fulkerson said.

A formal agreement has not been developed, but Executive Assistant Charlie Bryant presented the basic outline based on negotiation with the district, which would include an $8 million payment for the system spread equally over 20 years.

The city will retain all real estate tied to the system, which will be deeded to the district, according to the proposed terms. This transfer will include the City Springs water plant, water rights and production equipmemt.

The water district also receives authority for water withdrawal and all tanks, pumps, pipes, meters and other water production and distribution facilities operated by the city excluding public works. The district, however, said it is not interested in obtaining the Freeman Lake water plant but will perform an analysis to determine how best to integrate the system with its own.

In exchange, the city shall retain all the income it receives from cellphone antennas linked to the system until the current contracts expire. The water district would receive the income upon renewal, Bryant said.

The city also retains all office and lab equipment, tools, furniture, computers, trucks, mowers and other miscellaneous equipment and supplies usable “for other operations.”

Most notably, Mayor Edna Berger promised no employees in the system are in danger of losing their jobs. Employees who wish to remain employed with the city will be reassigned other duties.

Bryant said there will be an excess of employees with the sale, but attrition will streamline the workforce over time. Those who wish to seek employment with the water district will be free to do so, Fulkerson said.

For its part, the water district has agreed to provide access points in the system to the city for special uses, such as street sweepers, sewer jetters and portable water tanks and will take responsibility for all permits, licenses and environment and safety programs associated with the system.

The water district, too, has agreed to assist the city in enforcing fire protection standards by keeping an ample supply of water available, Bryant said. The fire department shall not be charged for its water usage while the city’s water usage will be charged as a bundled cost at an established wholesale rate, according to preliminary terms.

Furthermore, the water district will perform system improvements requested by the city for fire protection, public projects or economic development if the city offers site engineering, if requested, and needed materials. It also will reply to needed service improvements related to water pressure and circulation and system maintenance.

As previously agreed, the water district will pay for conversion of the treatment system to chloramine and will cover the costs of all meter conversions.

The water district is converting its system from free chlorine to chloramine starting in January so it can hook up to an alternative source of water from the Ohio River furnished by Louisville Water Co., which treats its water with chloramine. The two treatment methods legally are prohibited from mixing.

The city had the option of completing its own automatic metering and converting to chloramine, but Finance Director Steve Park said it would have cost millions and required a rate increase of 22 to 25 percent on monthly bills to recoup costs, which would put the city’s rates on par with the water district.

Fulkerson anticipates the rate increase only would maintain the system temporarily and eventually the city’s rates would surpass those of the district because it has less flexibility to cover costs.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.

In other business:

  • The council approved an ordinance modifying its alcoholic beverage control laws to reflect changes in state law. Alcoholic Beverage Control Administrator Tom Reynolds said recent changes streamlined the number of assigned licenses, creating a malt beverage license for package sales and another for malt beverage consumption on the premises. The state also now permits sales during polling hours on Election Day, City Attorney D. Dee Shaw said.
  • The council also approved an ordinance establishing an allocation fee for the detention basin built beside Severns Valley Baptist Church. The work, which cost more than $2 million, will benefit a watershed of more than 1,000 acres, said Robert Bush, director of stormwater management. Developers of that property would pay an allocation of $2,106.19 per acre when starting a development or annexing a county parcel into the city, Bush said.
  • The council authorized acquisition of a utility terrain vehicle from John Deere at $12,945.05. Fire Chief Mike Hulsey said the UTV will be used as a rescue tool in areas inaccessible to ambulances or fire trucks. Councilman Marty Fulkerson said First Citizens Bank offered a $3,000 grant to help offset the costs. In conjunction with the purchase, the council accepted a donation of a dual axle trailer from Fort Knox Federal Credit Union, which will be used to haul the UTV, Hulsey said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.