published Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Chattanooga: Mayor faces upstream swim to win over water districts

by Matt Wilson

Convincing Hamilton County’s water utility districts to agree to consolidation will prove difficult for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, some district officials said.

“We’re a little bit reluctant to see somebody else take it and run it like we’ve seen some other things run,” said Earl Moore, a member of the Sale Creek Utility District’s board.

Still, Mr. Moore said his district and others wouldn’t be averse to more collaboration among their systems, but the boards would like to stay independent.

One utility that may be completely open to consolidation is the one owned by the town of Signal Mountain, said Mayor Bill Lusk.

“We’d be extraordinarily interested,” Mr. Lusk said. “We are all ears for any opportunity for reduced cost.”

Signal Mountain buys its water from Tennessee-American Water Co.

In his April 20 inauguration speech, Mr. Littlefield set the goal of creating a regional water and sewer authority that would eliminate “unnecessary complexity and sometimes confusion about who provides service.” He later cited Tennessee-American’s attempt to serve Enterprise South — even though the industrial park sits in Eastside Utility District’s service area — as an example of service overlap.

Hamilton County has 10 water utilities — eight local water districts with boards appointed by County Mayor Claude Ramsey, one private company and one owned by the city it serves, Signal Mountain.

Mr. Littlefield said recently at a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board that the consolidation proposal would undoubtedly “cause people to be parochial.”

“I hope that they’ll look at the big picture,” he said.

Mr. Littlefield said the county would be more attractive to businesses with a single authority with which all comers could deal.

Gene Huffine, general manager of Hixson Utility District, said combining all services would be hard because Hamilton County is so geographically diverse, with mountains and a river running right through the middle.

“Hamilton County’s not one of these flat, uniform counties,” he said. “You’re not able to make everything uniform.”

For those who enjoy serving on the boards of local utility districts, Mr. Littlefield noted that their terms will end eventually and that board members “more receptive to consolidation” could be appointed.

Mr. Ramsey said there are probably places to find efficiencies in the county’s water service, but he had a more measured response than the city mayor when it came to the utility board members.

“We’ll work with those boards,” he said.

Mr. Huffine said he’d have to see “a detailed, broken-down plan” before considering a regional water authority.

“Let’s see what develops,” he said.

Likewise, Paul Parker, a member of Eastside Utility District’s board, said he needs to see proof that consolidation could be effective.

“I believe it needs to be studied to determine the feasibility,” he said.

Jim Gram, a member of the Soddy-Daisy Falling Water Utility District’s board, said he doesn’t see the efficiency in combining all the utilities. He said the current setup, in which an appointed board represents the utility’s customers, is effective.

However, it might be worthwhile to look at some consolidation, Mr. Gram said. For example, the smallest utility district, Sale Creek, could be folded into one of the larger ones, he said.

Mr. Moore said the Soddy-Daisy district and Sale Creek share a manager and have connected systems.

But it would be hard to get all the utilities to hand over their authority, Mr. Gram argued.

“That has to be a voluntary giving up of the charter,” he said.

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Mr. Littlefield is going to waste his last four years in office trying to revive Kinsey's failed water company takeover, trying to annex those who do not wish to be annexed, and resurrecting this silly metro government idea, which has failed multiple times in the past and will fail again, because it means higher taxes and more bureaucracy for all.

Smaller more localized government is the key, not bigger bureaucracy.

The larger the bureaucracy, the harder it is to manage cost.

What are they going to do? level everything from downtown Chattanooga out to Soddy Daisy just so they can run new water and sewer lines in the name of VW? A waste of time and tax payer dollars. It's not broke, quit trying to fix it.

This nothing more than a power grab to centralize power in the City of Chattanooga, and silence any and all opposing voices in the outlying areas. The so called need for a central water authority is nothing more than a ruse to chip away at the power of county government and weaken the clout, vote and voice of the smaller municipalities.

Look, they are already talking of appointing people who will do their bidding:

"Mr. Littlefield noted that their terms will end eventually and that board members “more receptive to consolidation” could be appointed."

That quote should be disturbing to everyone who wants their vote to count.

Haven't we had enough of cronyism in this town? (cronyism-the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, without proper regard to their qualifications)

Instead of trying to impose your will on the people with deceptive appointments to positions of power, how about listening to the public and what we want and executing the will of the people. That's what being in the executive branch of city government means.

May 3, 2009 at 7:57 a.m.
Gardener said...

"Mr. Littlefield noted that their terms will end eventually and that board members “more receptive to consolidation” could be appointed."

I too find that statement from the Mayor quite unsettling.

However, I think it goes beyond cronyism and sounds like corruption.

If I were Claude Ramsey I would not touch the idea of doing the appointments to the water authorities the way Mr. Littlefield suggested with a 99 and a half foot pole. Stink, stank, stunk.

The implementation of a county wide water authority would impact everyone in the county, it should therefore be put to a public, county-wide vote, and not decided by a handful of carefully chosen political appointees.

Mayor Littlefield are you that unethical that you would actually suggest rigging a panel of appointees to vote your will on this issue?

I am really disappointed in you, Mayor Littlefield, for that statement, starting to regret having voted for you, and beginning to wonder if there are not other reasons,
besides recycling, to sign Frank Depinto's petition to recall you from office.

I turned Mr. Depinto's request to sign down last time, but after reading that quote, if he comes round again, I think this time, I may.

Kudos, to the Times FreePress for staying on top of this issue and keeping us informed. I most likely would have never seen this on our local TV news. I hope the Times FreePress will follow up on this article and ask the Mayor to clarify his quote above. He's got some explaining to do.

May 3, 2009 at 8:39 a.m.
james said...

what i feel is happening is that with the recent government and EPA chargings to not only nashville, knoxville, but also louisville ky, seems the pressure is on to get all the sewer and water line in under the umbrella of chattanooga so more money will have to be spent on city projects. to keep an open checkbook on these projects is wrong ...whats worse ....go ask or get records of what is spent out and compare it to what the city workers are payed and it is not even funny most can not ever provide for thier family by working for the city alone. yet millions of dollars are spent continuously without one thought of the worker .....

keep in mind working in sewer lines means exactly that, once you flush it does not end. it's very hazardous and yet city works most times make no more than a person working at a fast food joint.

May 3, 2009 at 11:22 a.m.
cave_demon said...

As a geographer, I have an interesting fact for ol' Littlefield. City of Chattanooga represents less than 50% of the population of the entire county, so who is he to say he's the "leader" in all of this consolidation garbage? 155,000 people out of a county of 320,000. If we wanted to live in the city, we would. I really wish the city folk would've voted for Healy.

May 3, 2009 at 11:28 a.m.
JasonMcG said...

The audacity and arrogance of that quote about appointing people simply to vote his way on this issue is both appalling and apallingly stupid on the part of Mayor Littlefield. It's hard to believe he's foolish enough to say that on the record and in print.

Anyone know if the TN Waltz investigation is completely over with? Where there is smoke there is fire and that quote about appointing people "more receptive to consolidation" just stinks to high heaven.

Does the vote of the public count at all anymore in this county, or are we all just at the mercy and will of self-serving, corrupt politicians?

May 3, 2009 at 1:28 p.m.
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