By DOTTY NIST
Attendees at Inlet Beach Water System’s (IBWS) Aug. 23 annual meeting heard about “the good, the bad, and the ugly” with regard to personnel and events at the small member-owned utility.
It was obvious that parts of the member update were difficult for Jim Kelly, board president, to report, but Kelly said he is committed to transparency and to correcting the irregularities and abuses carrying over from the past that have come to his attention over the past year.
There was good news. Carol Anderson, Inlet Beach Water System (IBWS) chemist, reported that there had been no violations with regard to water contaminants over the past year, and that IBWS well water continues to be of excellent quality. Anderson added that IBWS purchased 29 percent of the water it supplied over the past year from Regional Utilities, also high-quality water.
Unfortunately, according to Kelly’s update, IBWS has lost the consumptive use permit that the state requires in order for water to be withdrawn from the aquifer. The reason, he explained, was that the then-manager for the utility, since terminated, did not file for renewal of the permit as required in August 2007.
Kelly said he had been assured that the matter was being taken care of, and that the board did not find out until the end of November 2007 that the application had not been filed.
He explained that IBWS was authorized to continue pumping water through a temporary permit. However, the company is currently unable to provide developers with the water availability letters that are necessary for development projects in the IBWS service area to proceed. Over the past year there have been only two requests for availability letters, occurring early on, and the county planning department was able to see that those developers received their letters, Kelly reported.
Kelly said IBSW has now filed for the consumptive use permit. She added that because of the lapse, the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD) is requiring the company to “start from scratch” with the application, costing close to $10,000, and pay a $5,000 penalty. Technical consultant Justin Strickland was hired to provide groundwater monitoring studies required by NWFWMD officials in addition to the application, Kelly commented.
“We have to justify the amount of water we want to withdraw from the aquifer,” said Charles Peters, engineering consultant for the utility. Peters said the NWFWMD has asked IBWS to project company water use over the next 20 years, even though the permit will be for a five-year period.
Peters anticipated that the consumptive use permit would be in hand within 60 days.
On the financial front, Kelly said the board has been concerned about possible insolvency within the next few years, particularly in view of the fact that “almost all new development has stopped,” in the service area, cutting out most impact fee revenue to the company.
Kelly said the board moved to address the cost of salaries by consolidating positions. In November 2007, he said, the board voted to terminate the former general manager’s and office manager’s positions. Those positions were then combined into one, now held by current manager Tressia Tousignant.
He explained that accounting errors and other irregularities associated with the previous management have been identified, and that the board is determined to identify and correct all such instances and cut out all “fat.” Until that is done, he said, there will be no consideration of raising rates.
One avenue of cost saving has been reducing the amount of water that is purchased through a contract with Regional Utilities, which amounted to 29 percent in the past year. Kelly said that for four out of the past six months IBWS has not purchased any water from Regional.
“We don’t need to buy any water that we can pump ourselves,” he said.
A “mess” that came to light under the new management was “stopped immediately,” Kelly commented. He explained that two employees had been operating a plumbing company on the side, and would clock in at IBWS prior to and after going out and engaging in plumbing work for their company. “We’re going to make sure this thing is right,” Kelly told the members.
He was re-elected to his board seat by acclamation after asking for the members’ continued support “to get this place cleaned up.”
IBWS member Betty Letcher thanked Kelly for his efforts.
“Without Jim, I don’t think we’d have a water company here,” she said. “We do not want to lose this water company,” Letcher added. IBWS member Buster Woodruff was also elected by acclamation to fill the other board seat up for election this year.