Oakland will again be reported to Utility Board for water loss

Oakland Town Recorder Tammie Hightower said earlier this month that the town will again be reported to the Tennessee Utility Board for loss of water.
She noted that the town has submitted the American Water Works Association reports to the auditing firm, which is examining the Oakland Water and Sewer Department records for the previous fiscal year.
“We’re going to be reported to the Utility Board again,” she said. “And it’s due to water loss, unaccounted-for water. We have a hearing on March 8.”
Hightower made the comments during her monthly financial report at the Jan. 15 meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
She said there are some things within the Water and Sewer Department’s “billing and cutoff processes” that she considers “very unfair.”
One of them is that no minimum monetary amount has ever been established to which a “late penalty or cutoff” would apply. She asked the board to “begin the process” of setting that minimum amount.
“It just does not seem fair to put a $20 penalty on somebody with a $2 balance,” she noted. “I can’t rationalize that. So, if you will help me out on that, I will be very grateful.”
Hightower also said Oakland has traditionally set the 10th of the month as the date when customers’ bill payments are due.
“Maybe when you had 200 or 300 people in the town, that worked,” she said. “I think that needs to be revised.”
Noting that she checked with several towns and cities in the Oakland area about their billing dates, Hightower said a majority of them are on a “15-day cycle.” So, she asked the board to consider establishing the first of the month for mailing the bills and the 15th for their due date.
Because each of Oakland’s previous administrations basically “came up with its own policy,” she said the customers feel that “the rules keep changing.”
She said a mayor or staff cannot establish a policy or fee or remove it. That must be done by the board through passage of an ordinance.
While noting that many of the procedures were established in 1991 or ’92, she said they have not been reviewed since 1999.
In response to a question by Alderman John Troncone, Hightower said a 34-percent water loss amounts to slightly more than 81 million gallons.
“You’re always going to have some unaccounted-for water,” she acknowledged. “But this is way outside of what the state allows.”
Mayor Chris Goodman said he, Hightower and Public Works Director Harvey Ellis are examining things that may be contributing to the loss, as well as what is necessary to “track it better.”
Hightower has cited the following as reasons for the loss:
(1) unauthorized removal of water from the town’s fire hydrants;
(2) a “master meter” that is “10-percent off;”
(3) town-owned buildings not billed for their water usage;
(4) no meters installed in the Water Department;
(5) the Fire Department not reporting its water usage to the Water Department; and
(6) no documentation of water main leaks.
Goodman has said that, during the past several years, there was a change in the state law that specifies how much municipalities are allowed to show as a loss, and it is getting “progressively smaller.”
“We’re coming up on another big turn where what they’ll allow goes from 20 percent to 15 percent,” he noted. “So, a lot of it is really just getting more attention as that law goes forward.”
Hightower said the AWWA reports are based on a municipality’s water loss in relation to its operating costs. Until the auditing firm “gets it all calculated,” she said, it is “very possible” that Oakland will have a “negative change in net assets” on its water this year.
“If you spend more than you’re bringing in by your bills, you’re in trouble,” she concluded. “And we are there. So, we’re going to work together to try to figure out where it is and solve it.”