Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

TOP STORY >> Commission decides on manager to run utility

Leader staff writer

Cabot’s water and wastewater utility , which will become independent of the mayor and city council on Jan. 1, now has a general manager.

The Cabot Water and Waste-water Commission, which will take over the city utilities at the first of the year, has hired Tim Joyner, an engineer with the water company that supplies the Pine Bluff area.
Joyner’s salary will be $77,500 a year, plus benefits.

Joyner, 44, has turned in his resignation in Pine Bluff and will start to work in Cabot on Oct. 31. His family will move from White Hall when school is out.
“I have a strong desire to move back to that part of the county. I’m originally from Searcy,” Joyner said Tuesday.

Asked how he intends to spend the two months he has to get ready for the change from city to commission control, Joyner said he intends to get to know how everything works.

“I’m going to have to get really familiar with the system. That’s my major task for the next two months,” he said.

Joyner has a degree in civil engineering from Memphis State University and 15 years of experience. It took the commission three months to find him after turning down the current public works director, water manager, wastewater manager and at least five other applicants.

Hiring a general manager was critical to the commission taking over water and wastewater because, the commissioners lack the expertise to run the utilities on a daily basis and as they have pointed out, that isn’t their job.

Asked Tuesday if there is still time to complete all the work of separating the utilities from the city, commission chairman J.M. Park said he thinks it is possible.

“I think we will if we don’t run into any major conflicts with the city,” he said. “There might be a few loose ends. There always is with a transfer of this magnitude, but not anything we can’t clear up later.”
The commission as it exists today is the successor to the Cabot Public Utilities Commission which was created by an overwhelming vote of the people in November 2004. But that commission was not autonomous. It still answered to the city council. So at the strong urging of former City Attorney Ken Williams, the council abolished the utilities commission and replaced it with the water and sewer commission, a form that gets its authority from the state to operate city utilities independent of the mayor and city council.

In re-creating the commission, the council said it wouldn’t relinquish control until January 2006. In the interim, the commission was supposed to get ready for the transition by getting its books in order, hiring a general manager, devising a plan to assume responsibility for the city employees which work for water and sewer now and dividing the equipment that is now shared with the street department.
So far, only the equipment part has been dealt with. The commission has hired an attorney and they have advertised for an accountant to help with the books.

Currently, the city general fund gets 5 percent of the revenue, about $200,000 a year, from the water department. That money helps pay for fire and police protection. Some council members were concerned that the commission would keep all the revenue and talked about a possible 5 percent franchise fee like that collected from other utilities.

But Park says he doesn’t think the council needs to worry. State law provides for the city to collect 5 percent and he doesn’t think anyone on the commission would even try to fight it.
Park said city employees who now work for water and wastewater need not fear for their jobs when the commission assumes control in January. “They’ll get to keep all their fringe benefits,” he said. Sick leave and vacation time will carry over.

The public works director is the only employee who will not be retained, he said. But the hope is that the mayor will keep him on to run streets, engineering and code enforcement.