Water Authority looking to build customer base

by Sarah Fay Campbell

The bond issuance that is being finalized will help the Coweta County Water and Sewerage Authority’s finances by significantly reducing debt service payments from 2016 to 2020, but the authority is still going to need some new customers in the next several years.

The new debt structure "allows for growth to occur," said Jay Boren, authority CEO.

"The original debt structure would not have been a problem had we had the growth" that was expected, said Chairman Neal Shepard. Coweta County made plans for the future with the new B.T. Brown Water Treatment Plant, expansion of the Shenandoah Wastewater Treatment Plant, and water purchase contracts with Griffin and the city of Newnan based on predictions of rapid growth.

But the housing market crashed and "we actually lost" customers due to foreclosures and shutoffs, Shepard said.

The $13.35 million bond issuance, which will be finalized on Sept. 17, "allows us to grow into that debt requirement," said Authority Member Eric Smith.

Moving forward, "future growth is needed," Boren said. "Our system is underutilized."

The B.T. Brown Water Plant is barely used at all. In the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, average utilization was just 1.5 percent of capacity.

The 3 million gallons per day that the authority is contractually obligated to buy from Griffin and Newnan Utilities is actually more than the authority sells to its customers, said CFO Andrew Caldwell. And that's with a major change to the Griffin contract that reduced the amount of water the authority has to buy.

However, as about 12 percent of the water that flows through the system is lost for various reasons, the authority doesn't usually have to buy more than it uses.

The wastewater treatment plant is only at 38 percent utilization.

That's going to have to change in the future, "to maintain the current water and sewer rate structures we have in place," Boren said.

"How do you suggest increasing utilization of our assets?" asked Smith.

Boren said, to keep rates from going up, they'll need to see approximately 5 percent growth a year, moving forward.

Even though the authority currently has more water and sewer capacity than it needs, "the beauty of this is the investment that we've got is in a plant that is really adequate for any future growth," Shepard said.

"So many municipalities are scrambling to catch up with the growth," said Smith. "We're ahead of the curve at this point."

"I think it's a good place to be," said Authority Member Mary Ann Sullivan. "Where you don't have to scramble and do the best you can."

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