Some Hamilton County commissioners are making waves about their lack of oversight of the county’s Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority.
“That’s a weak point, on our part,” said Commissioner Curtis Adams, a member of the commission when the authority was created in 1994.
The contract establishing the wastewater authority requires the board to present an annual budget report to the commission, but gives the authority free rein to set rates “as the board deems reasonable.”
In May, the authority board approved an $8 monthly fee for 24,000 gravity sewer customers, angering some officials. The money is slated to inspect and repair sewer lines around the county.
Commissioner John Allen Brooks has described that policy as “a socialist program.” He and other commissioners have said homeowners should pay for their own repairs if they need them, but those that don’t need repairs shouldn’t have to pay.
In response to the controversy over the $8 fee, commissioners have said they want more information from the wastewater authority and more notice of its actions. Commissioner Fred Skillern told Water Board Chairman Henry Hoss that he would like regular updates about the status of the improvement project.
“I think we should have at least a quarterly report,” Mr. Skillern said.
Mr. Adams noted that the county funds several other agencies with independent boards. For example, the commission gets a monthly financial report from Erlanger hospital’s board, along with advance notice of meetings, he said.
Wastewater authorities in Tennessee have no taxing authority, according to state law, though they do have the authority to charge fees and service rates. The law also states that the Tennessee Regulatory Authority — which has authority over other utilities such as electricity and gas — has no jurisdiction over wastewater authorities.
Former Hamilton County Mayor Dalton Roberts, who was mayor when the wastewater authority was created, said the commission has control over the water board through its appointment powers.
“Your basic county oversight is through the appointment of members,” he said.
Hamilton County’s wastewater authority board has 12 members.
State law dictates that the executive of the government that sets up the authority — in this case, the county mayor — must choose five members of the authority board. The legislative body — the County Commission — must approve those appointments. All other participating governments — Red Bank, Signal Mountain, East Ridge, Lookout Mountain, among others — get one board member each.
The body that approves a member’s appointment can remove that person from the board through a two-thirds majority vote, according to law, but only after a public hearing on the matter. Mr. Adams said the commission has never voted out a member.
Mr. Adams said he hopes the uproar over the $8 fee will foster better communication with the wastewater authority.
“They’ve got to realize we’ve got to answer to the public out there,” he said.