published Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Chattanooga City Council urges thorough vetting of water authority plan

by Cliff Hightower
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

$66.5 million: Estimated budget for water authority

288: Number of projected employee

Source: Chattanooga

A majority of City Council members said Wednesday night they want to make sure there is adequate discussion before creating a clean-water authority from the city's sewer and water quality divisions.

"I think we'd be remiss if we didn't look at a study or something," said Councilman Jack Benson. "But I'd like to have more public meetings."

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said she wants to compare the costs of the present stand-alone divisions and a future authority.

"I want to see efficiencies," she said.

The city held a public hearing Wednesday night at the City Council chambers to discuss creating a separate, independent authority from the sewer and water quality divisions.

Mayor Ron Littlefield has said he envisions this becoming a regional authority for water and wastewater agencies.

Several people spoke in support of the authority Wednesday.

Mike Mallen, an environmental attorney who served on the city's blue ribbon committee on water quality two years ago, said Littlefield's plan is bold.

"This is the most important issue not only for Chattanooga, but the region," he said.

Donald Seagle, a member of the board of Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, said he's "behind the mayor 100 percent."

But two mayoral candidates, Guy Satterfield and Rob Healy, expressed concerns. Littlefield is term-limited, and a new mayor will be elected in March. Former state Sen. Andy Berke is also in the race.

Satterfield said he worried that employees moved into the authority would be left out of the city's pension plan.

Healy asked the council to delay action until after a new mayor and council are elected.

Littlefield said later that employees could be transitioned to a new plan, such as what happened in the consolidation of the 911 center.

He said current employees would still be on the city's pension plan and new employees would be placed on a separate plan.

"The employees will be taken care of," he said.

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