The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 30, 2013

Sewage rate increase for county schools delayed

By Kim West

— The Limestone County Water and Sewage Authority is moving forward with a sewage rate increase for county schools but agreed to delay the move for another eight months.

The LCWSA signed a three-year contract in 2006 to lock in a pre-negotiated sewage rate at nearly $10,000 per month with Limestone County Schools. The contract was re-signed in 2009, but the deal expired last October and was not renewed.

The LCWSA had the option to immediately raise the sewage rate last November but instead agreed to negotiate with the school system. Both sides agreed an increase was warranted but they differed on the amount based on which costs the school system should pay.

LCWSA General Manager Byron Cook said the increase should be based on a breakdown in costs, including labor, maintenance and chemicals. Limestone County Superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk said the figure should be based on actual usage by the school system.

Officials from both entities initially met in October, and Cook and Sisk met again Jan. 10 to narrow down the timing of the increase and the amount.

They reached a verbal agreement for a $120,000 increase, which will go into effect Oct. 1. The school system’s fiscal year runs from October to September.

“We showed them our true cost, which is more than $500,000 (annually),” said Cook. “We shared what we could cut out of that, and we agreed to cut the cost down to $240,000 because they’re part of the county, and we’re part of the county.

“We don’t want to take anything from the students, and we want to be a partner with the schools. It costs us a lot more than what we’re asking, and it was a bad business deal originally but none of us were there at the time it was made.” Cook was hired as general manager in 2010.

Sisk, who was hired last June, said the school board and the attorneys for both sides must approve the agreement. He said the doubled rate would be added to the 2014 fiscal year budget. The school system’s current budget is $78 million, according to Central Office records.

“The board has not taken action yet but this gives us a timeline,” Sisk said. “We’ll be able to work on this during the summertime so when our new budget is addressed in October, we’ll have had time to account for the new expenditure.”

Sisk added that he appreciated the LCWSA’s decision to delay the increase.

“We were shown a cost of $540,000, and (LCWSA) came down to $240,000. We do not agree on the total cost, but I genuinely believe it’s the desire of the Limestone Water and Sewer board to want to do what’s best for the kids — they have done that in the past — and we’re relying on their continued support.”