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Firm to oversee water plant work

Aldermen voted Wednesday evening to transfer operation of the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant to a private firm.

     Aldermen approved a five-year contract with Mitchell Technical Services, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., at a cost of $263,000 a year.

     Public Works Director Steven Moreton told aldermen the plant’s current budget is about $300,000. The city will continue to pay the plant’s electricity bill and will pay for sludge removal as necessary.

     “The costs should come out about the same,” Moreton told aldermen.

     Of the yearly price tag the contract stipulates, $18,000 will be earmarked for maintenance and repairs. If that repair budget is not exhausted in a given year, the remaining funds will revert to the city. Should maintenance costs exceed $18,000, the city will be responsible for providing further funds.

     “That’s just a budget,” said Mike McKenzie, with engineering firm WGK. “Repairs may come out more or less for a given year.”

     Moreton and McKenzie reviewed a number of proposals over the previous two months before selecting Mitchell Technical Services.

     “There were a number of tangibles and intangibles,” McKenzie said of the reasons he and Moreton chose the Tennessee-based firm.

     Mayor Les Bumgarner told aldermen the move is less drastic than the city’s past experiences with privatizing city services.

     “This isn’t like when we got out of the garbage business,” Bumgarner said. “We got rid of all our trucks. It’d be almost impossible to get back in. We can take the plant back and hire our own people if we want.”

     Moreton said he hadn’t been considering contracting the plant out to a private operator until Calvin Carter retired for health reasons earlier this year. Willie Gayten is also retiring as of June 22. Those retirements leave the plant with no class four and no class two operator respectively.

     Rather than replace those men, Moreton thought it was time to bring in more expertise than he felt the city could find on its own.

     “With the government mandates of testing, we feel more comfortable with a company,” Moreton said. “That’s what they do.”

     After Carter and Gayten’s retirements, there will be two remaining plant employees. One handles general maintenance and another operates the city’s lift stations.

     Both will work with Mitchell Technical Services for a trial period before the company decides whether to permanently retain them.

     The city will have the right to enter and inspect the plant at any time but must give prior notification.

     Moreton said Mitchell Technical Services was willing to sign a three-year contract, but would have added $18,000 to the contract total.

     “I’m not happy about the five years, but I understand why,” said Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell.

     Maxwell has previously said he believes the city should pursue shorter contracts with firms operating city services.

     Moreton and McKenzie warned aldermen repairs may become increasingly necessary at the plant, as it is 20 years old.

     New Department of Environmental Quality regulations may also require a significant overhaul or replacement of the plant when its license expires in 2015.

     “What you’ve got is a plant that is near the end of its functional life,” McKenzie said. “But it’s like a car. If you maintain it, you can drive it longer.”