Water and Sewerage Authority

County commissioners weigh in on compensation

by Sarah Fay Campbell

There is a difference of opinion among the Coweta County commissioners when it comes to the monthly payment that members of the Coweta Water and Sewerage Authority get for their services.

On May 6, the Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 against compensating the authority members up to $500 a month. The issue came up in the commission meeting shortly after the county administration and some commissioners became aware the authority members were getting paid.

Some commissioners said it was only after the May 6 meeting that they discovered the authority members had been getting paid since the authority began operating in 2007.

“The whole story didn’t come out until after that night,” said Commissioner Tim Lassetter.

“I have no problem with somebody getting fair and reasonable expenses paid,” Lassetter said.

Now that he knows the members have been getting paid the whole time and that “according to what I was told, nobody told them ‘hey, you weren't supposed to be getting paid,’” Lassetter said he has less of an issue with it.

However, he added, “I didn’t then and I wouldn’t now vote to allow them or any other board to set their own pay.”

He also didn’t like that the authority “basically voted for what we had said no to” when the members voted June 4 to compensate the officers – which are the same as the members – $500 a month.

When he found out about that vote, it felt a little like a “slap in the face,” Lassetter said. “But I have found out more information.”

“Whether I agree with their decision or not, I better understand why they did what they did,” Lassetter said.

Lassetter said he was surprised nobody at the authority “said anything about the fact that they were getting paid, until now.

“If I had been a board member … or a former board member, I would have made a phone call, I think, and said ‘hey, I just wanted to know we aren’t doing anything wrong.’”

Commissioner Paul Poole said he thought the commissioners’ vote not to pay the authority members would have put a stop to their getting paid.

“I thought that was the end of it,” he said. “I think our intent with those individuals was for them not to get paid."

Poole and Lassetter interviewed potential authority members when the authority was first set up. “I never dreamed that people were going to get paid for it,” Poole said. Before being elected to the county commission, Poole served on the Coweta Board of Zoning Appeals. He never expected any money for that. “I thought it was an honor and a privilege.”

Poole would like to see the state law regulating the authority be changed, to take away the ability for the members to compensate themselves when they act as officers. He doesn’t think that was the intent of the legislation.

Lassetter agrees. “My personal opinion is they wouldn’t have put the part about the commissioners being able to set compensation if they were going to be able to compensate themselves,” he said.

Poole’s biggest issue is the authority members get to decide how much they get paid.

“People voting their own selves raises – that is wrong,” Poole said. “There is not a safeguard in there.”

When it comes time to appoint new members of the authority, Poole said he would not be able to vote for someone who “would require being paid to do that job."

Commissioner Rodney Brooks found out about the compensation somewhat earlier, shortly after Eric Smith was appointed to the authority in 2011, but he didn’t know the details until more recently.

Brooks said he feels like, with the great job the authority members have done and the many, many millions of dollars they have saved customers, $1,500 a month for the three members is a bargain.

It’s important to have highly-skilled, financially astute members on the authority, which has a multi-million dollar budget and nearly $100 million in bond debt.

The authority has its own budget, and the members are paid with authority funds, not taxpayer money. Brooks brought up the issue in the commission meeting because he wanted to put a cap on the compensation.

Commissioner Al Smith also feels comfortable with the compensation, now that he knows all the details. He voted against the original resolution.

“They need to get paid because they need to have people in place that understand the debt they have to service” and what is necessary to keep the system running, Smith said.

The amount of money the members are getting paid isn’t enough to fight over. “It’s counterproductive. They’re doing a good job with providing water and sewer service for the county,” he said.

Smith doesn’t have a problem with the members getting paid, but he does "have problem with the way it was set up originally, that no one knew. It gives me pause that no one knew.”

Commission Chairman Bob Blackburn said he would rather the board of commissioners as a whole make a comment rather than individual commissioners. He did not respond to further requests for comment.

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