Special to the Review
The Athens Review
The Athens Municipal Water Authority is responsible for your Lake Athens, the source of water used in local homes and businesses.
The water authority is also responsible for the city's future water needs — water which future generations will need in order to thrive.
New sources of water must be developed and maintained as depletion of water reserves in the state and indeed the country due to population growth, changing environments and waste water.
The five member AMWA board of directors is elected by the taxpayers to serve four year terms in a non-paid capacity to concentrate solely on water, our most precious natural resource.
“Other than dealing with other various lake related issues, AMWA has dedicated its efforts to secure a water rich future for the community — a future which will allow a plentiful supply of water for our community for over the next 100 years as well as creating major economic development opportunities and jobs,” Executive Director Wylie Pirkle said.
AMWA has concentrated a great deal of time and resources in developing an alternate water supply for our city's future.
In the last two years alone, AMWA has developed a water well farm consisting of nine wells, capable of producing three times the amount of water that could safely be taken from Lake Athens.
AMWA has completed one of nine of those wells to date and tied it to the water treatment facility. This well is capable of producing 1,000,000 gallons of water per day. This project was done at absolutely no cost to the city. Once additional wells are put into service, AMWA will bear the cost of all the well completions and piping at no expense to the city.
In addition to future sources of water, AMWA stands ready to modify the local water treatment plant as depletion of water or increased needs dictate.
“We are also preparing a plan to one day replace our sixty-year-old water treatment facility with a modem, more efficient plant, capable of producing the amount of water necessary for a growing community. The estimated cost for this is well in excess of $50 million. When this project is completed, it will have come at no expense to the city,” Pirkle said.
The executive director said it is unfortunate that AMWA has had to seek legal remedies to delay the city's decision to dissolve its board.
“The mayor has stated he regrets that AMWA is using the courts to take this matter away from the citizens. Isn't that just the opposite? AMWA is preparing a petition with taxpayer signatures to force the city council to allow local citizens — during the next general election — to decide if, indeed, AMWA should be eliminated rather than allow five people on a city council decide on this important matter,” Pirkle said. “AMWA was not eager to spend time and money in efforts to survive and continue to serve Athens. However, by planning ahead and being fiscally responsible, investment monies were set aside for contingencies. No taxpayer funds have been used in our legal efforts as AMWA felt it was not fair to the taxpayers to use tax monies against the city's tax monies defense.”
Pirkle said the city has publicly spoken of tedious months of negotiations and the eventual filing of a suit, without mediation, on Dec. 10, 2013.
“The meaning of ‘months of negotiations’ is a bit ambiguous. There were four meetings over the course of two months and the city did suggest a mediation approach, precipitated by AMWA's concern over a serious breach of contract,” he said. “AMWA was dedicated to a remedy for the fiduciary benefit of taxpayers and considered mediation.”
After all the meetings and conversations with city personnel, AMWA felt it was a waste of time and money to attempt to formally mediate the dispute for two significant reasons, according to Pirkle.
First, Pirkle said the City of Athens officials have not admitted to a breach of contract and mediation would be non-binding. Therefore, city government officials could have walked away from mediation and disregarded the findings had they not liked what they heard.
“The city states that this and other actions prompted them to reevaluate AMWA's importance to the community and made the decision to get rid of us and take our savings of more than $8 million in cash and real estate holdings in order to protect taxpayers from us squandering the monies they have entrusted to us,” Pirkle said. “Our funds are used for a number of things that must be done, regardless of who has the responsibility. The fact that we have a large reserve of cash and holdings is testament enough to AMWA's fiduciary responsibility. These reserve funds have been set aside to modify the existing water treatment facility, operate the Municipal Utility District and develop future water sources. Most importantly, AMWA has been fortunate to accumulate these savings while keeping our tax rate the same for the last ten years while earning non-tax monies from other sources.”
Pirkle said the city’s most recent article in the Athens Review speaks of the savings of meshing AMWA into the current city structure, thus eliminating costly layer of government and yet another taxing authority.
“The only expense that could possibly be eliminated would be the $42,000 per year salary of the Executive Director,’ he said. “This cost to taxpayers is less compensation than the city receptionist. The city argues that they can do the same job for Athens as AMWA does. The answer is simple: sure. By the same token, AMWA is capable of running the city government. Athens' city government has tripled the tax rate in the last 10 years and AMWA's has stayed the same.”
Pirkle added, “The last part of the latest article is full of disclaimers. City fathers are trying to create a mindset that they had nothing to do with the problems identified by the lawsuit. The city staff is also our staff and they are the ones who make recommendations to AMWA in regard to those issues. The city has accused our board of putting our interests in front of the citizens of Athens and stated they are trying to protect citizens from our misdeeds. I urge voters to decide this issue for yourself as well as the fate of AMWA.”
The AMWA will ask voters to sign a petition Saturday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the Athens Partnership Building. The building is located at 108 Pinkerton Street.