Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

TOP STORY >>Cabot water group hopes it will justify its existence

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The commission that has run Cabot’s utilities for one year was ordered by a 2-1 vote of the people and then created by a vote of the city council, but what the old council gave the new one could be taken away, so the commission has been putting together a progress report to show the new aldermen that Cabot WaterWorks is in good hands. The new city council will be sworn in Jan. 6, and Bill Cypert, secretary of the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, said the commission will make its pitch then that it’s doing its job.

Cypert said the members aren’t really worried that five votes from the council could disband the commission, but it is fair to say they are apprehensive. The commission took over the city’s water and sewer departments in January 2006 and named the two Cabot WaterWorks. To get ready for the transition, they hired an engineer to run the operation, a lawyer to deal with legal issues and an accounting firm to work with the money. Among the commission’s accomplishments this year is a $250,000 increase in investments revenue and the implementation of policies for dealing with developers so that none will be able to say they weren’t treated fairly. “They may not like it, but they know they are on a level playing field,” Cypert said.

Also among the first year’s accomplishments is the reduction of rainwater getting into the sewer treatment plant. Not only does rainwater overburden the plant, the city was under pressure from state and federal environmental agencies to get it under control. General Manager Tim Joyner noticed early in the year that several manholes were actually under water during heavy rains (some were in ditches) and started pouring concrete collars around them to elevate the opening so the water couldn’t get in.

The commission inherited from the mayor and council plans to build a new sewer treatment plan as well as plans to connect to Central Arkansas Water which would be the city’s water supplier in the future. The sewer plant is under construction and on schedule for completion by the end of 2007. But the commission is working on an alternative to connecting to CAW in the near future. Cabot’s permit to take water from its well field between Beebe and Lonoke is for 3 million gallons a day. Since pumping water is less expensive than buying water, the commission would like to increase that amount over the next 40 years to almost 8 million gallons a day. Whether their request will be honored hinges on the results of a study by the U.S. Geological Survey to show how the aquifer would be affected and the attitude of the people who live in that area who have never wanted Cabot there.

The permit was issued by Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which will decide after the study is completed early in 2007 whether 3 million gallons is all the city will be allowed to take from the ground in a single day. If the answer is no, the transmission line will have to be built soon. Cabot’s part of the cost would be about $14 million. But Cypert said the longer Cabot can pump its own water the more the commission can save toward paying for the line to connect to CAW.

In addition to the new hires when they started, the commission recently hired a human resources director who also will make sure WaterWorks meets all OSHA requirements. Cypert said overtime is down because the commission has insisted on it and he believes the pay raises will help WaterWorks keep good workers. The commission is made up of city residents – J.M. Park, Don Keesee, Gary Walker, Cary Hobbs and Cypert – who do meet twice a month or more without pay. So far they have been able to talk through all the issues they have faced and have never voted anyway other than unanimously. “Every commissioner brings a unique talent to the table,” Cypert said.

Park, a retired banker, brings community respect, he said. Keesee, the president of Arvest bank in Cabot and Jacksonville, helps with financial matters. Walker, a professional engineer and an executive with Ford New Holland, is good with technical issues. Hobbs, a retired Air Force pilot and owner of Computer Connections, is good with computers. And Cypert, retired from Blue Cross Blue Shield as chief technology and procurement officer, said although he knows computers, he believes his contribution to the commission has been his organizational skills.

Hobbs drew the two-year term on the commission and will be up for reappointment this year. Cypert said the commission will recommend that the council reappoint him. “We’ve got a good mix. Why mess it up?” he asked. Of course that appointment would be contingent on the new council believing that the new commission is worthy of continuing its work.

Cypert said that alone is reason enough to keep it going. A commission does its work of maintaining and planning for the future regardless of who the mayor is or who is on the city council. “A commission stays out of politics and it provides continuity,” he said.