Customers hate paying for sewer they don't use

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By Cheryl Duncan, Assistant Editor

An increase in Roane County sewer rates is not what drew the ire of two people who showed up for a recent public hearing on the matter.

“I thought Russia was the only place you had to pay for something you didn’t get,” said Lewis Jordan of K&K Lock and Key. “To me, it’s the principle of the thing.”

Jordan’s complaint refers to the mandate that anyone with access to county sewer lines is required to pay the monthly fee, regardless of whether they receive the service.

State law, however, is on the utility district’s side.

That same law —  Tennessee Code Annotated 7-35-201 — also calls for residents and business owners with access to sewer to connect to the utility.

Roane County Board of Utilities, which governs the county’s sewer system, stops short of that requirement, Utility Director Gene McClure said.

“We’re bending over backwards to charge you the least amount,” he said. “It’s not something we enjoy doing. It’s something we have to do.”

Effective March 1, monthly sewer rates will be $31.50 for residential customers, an increase of $6.50.

Commercial customers will pay $59.35, a difference of $12.25. Utility board members said last Thursday that customers should begin seeing the increases in their April bills.

“I can relate to what you’re saying exactly,” board chairman Stan Malone told Jordan. “It’s just the cost of having the lines and the ability to match it. It’s the only way the utility can operate. I’m sorry, but that’s not going to change, I’m sure.”

The rate increase was first approved in December to help the department fund sewer improvements to College Grove, Post Oak and the growing Midtown area.

A new physicians building is under construction, and a dialysis facility was recently completed.

Covenant Health officials plan to relocate Roane Medical Center to the area in the near future, and county leaders believe the new hospital could be a catalyst for more development.

In fact, McClure said he’s heard from businesses looking to build around Midtown’s Interstate 40 area.

“It’s going to benefit Roane County if we can get these jobs in,” board member Jim Ryans said.

“If everybody’s going to benefit from it, why doesn’t everybody have to pay for it?” asked Bill Douglas. “If everybody is going to profit, then everybody ought to have to pay.”

Sewer departments, McClure said, must by law be self-sufficient from revenues generated from ratepayers.

“We can’t take tax dollars and put them in sewer,” he added. “It’s illegal.”

Most of the burden, McClure said, falls to commercial customers such as Capstan, which McClure said pays a $5,500 monthly sewer bill according to usage.

Douglas also issued a complaint about the cost to connect to county sewer. Because his property cannot use gravity flow, he would be responsible for paying to build a pumping system.

Board members estimated that cost as high as $6,000, with Douglas saying he’s had a $9,000 estimate.

“This is cheap for what we’re getting,” Douglas said about the sewer rate. “But I don’t know why I have to pay to get on.”

Jordan and Douglas were the only residents who attended the hearing to air their grievances.

“At least, I want you to know that somebody cares,” Douglas said. “I know you do, too. I’ll probably sleep better knowing I got this knot out of my belly.”

The Roane County Board of Utilities is seeking a $5.585 million loan to help pay for sewer improvements.