Hamilton County’s Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority spent nearly $54,000 between fiscal 2004 and fiscal 2007 to lobby the state General Assembly regarding laws dealing with sewers, records show.
One of those laws, which deals with who pays for sewer repairs, could change next year.
Under current law, Hamilton County’s authority is required to pay for the repair of lines that extend from a homeowner’s property line to the main sewer, which often is underneath the street. Homeowners must pay to repair lines on their property, the law states.
Authority officials have said the law unfairly singles them out, since those repairs are the responsibility of the property owners in every other part of the state, said former state Sen. Bob Rochelle, D-Lebanon, who works under contract for the authority as a limited-engagement attorney.
But maybe not for long.
State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he met with legislative attorneys Tuesday morning to draw up legislation requiring all sewer providers in the state to pay for repairs to those lines. He said he’d introduce the legislation next year.
“That way, our wastewater treatment authority gets treated the same way as other entities,” Rep. McCormick said.
Rep. McCormick said he and authority attorney John Anderson had “a spirited discussion” about the law when Mr. Anderson first brought it to the legislative delegation’s attention. Rep. McCormick said there are no hard feelings now.
Henry Hoss, Hamilton County’s authority chairman, said the legislation would help if passed.
“It certainly addresses the issue of us being treated unfairly,” he said.
But Mr. Hoss said it will be very difficult for Rep. McCormick to push the bill through, given the lobbying power of cities that operate sewer systems.
“I’d hate to be in his shoes,” he said.
Former state Rep. Arnold Stulce, D-Soddy-Daisy, sponsored the 1999 law that clearly stated that the Hamilton County wastewater authority would have to pay for such sewer repairs. He said he didn’t intend to single out Hamilton County, but only four counties’ sewer providers were created under the same statute as Hamilton County’s and representatives from two of those counties asked not to be included in the bill. He said he could not remember which two counties they were.
Mr. Stulce said it is unfair for ratepayers to have the responsibility of digging up streets to make repairs to their sewer lines. Rep. McCormick has expressed similar sentiments.
The wastewater authority’s 2007 annual report shows $18,264 in lobbying expenses, called “association dues,” between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2007.
“We all try to be aware and look for legislation that might have an impact,” Mr. Rochelle said.
Mr. Rochelle, who also works for the wastewater treatment authority in Wilson County, said he works with lobbyist Jay West to review legislation.
Records show the authority also employed lobbyist Hope Jackson in 2007.
The authority spent $37,126 for legal services in fiscal 2007, records show. Mr. Hoss said that mostly goes to John Anderson, the authority’s attorney.
The authority also hired Derryberry Public Relations in late summer of last year, said Robin Derryberry, the firm’s founder. She said her company initially was hired to work on the authority’s Web site and now helps translate engineering information into something the public can understand.
“We weren’t hired to spin or do anything like that,” she said.
Ms. Derryberry said the firm works with the authority on a month-to-month basis and charges for hourly work done.
The authority has faced criticism from some county commissioners for hiring the Derryberry firm.