Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

TOP STORY >>Water department head is retiring after 23 years

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

After 23 years with the Jacksonville Water Department and 19 years as its chief, Ken Anderson will hand over the reins to Mike Simpson later this month.

Simpson, a 30-year veteran of the department, is currently the operations and maintenance director.

For Anderson it will complete a journey that started basically at the bottom of the ladder and through hard work took him to the top.

After four years in the Air Force and earning a degree in banking and finance at the University of Arkansas, Ander-son took a job in 1985 with the water department as an administrative assistant doing mostly office work. “Back then, we had one big computer for billing and all the other office work was done manually,” Anderson said.

“Now all accounting functions are computerized using much smaller computers too,” he added.

In 1988, he moved up to office manager and then 11 months later was selected to head the department. Anderson, who came to Jacksonville in the mid 50’s with the opening of Little Rock Air Force Base, has spent most of his time in Jacksonville, except when he was in the service and college.

Anderson and his wife plan to stay in the area and spend time with their two grandchildren. “I’ll become a committed babysitter,” he chuckled. Anderson will also be spending time working on his 1972 Datsun 240Z.

“I’ve been renovating it ever since I got it six years ago, doing a bit at a time,” he said. He said he bought it from a friend in Benton who had in in storage after blowing the engine in 1985. “I’ve enjoyed working on cars ever since high school,” he said.

Anderson and his wife plan to do some traveling too.

“But with the price of gas, we’ll still do some but not as much as originally planned,” he said. In his 23 years with the department, he has seen the city’s water use and capacity grow immensely.

When Anderson started the department, it had 23 employees and 7,787 customers. Now it has 33 employees and 9,652 customers. Back in 1989, the department was producing 1.4 billion gallons of water a year. It’s now doing 300 million gallons more at 1.7 billion gallons of water a year. The city has also moved from getting most of its water from wells to using wells and water supplied by Central Arkansas Water, which gets its water from Lake Maumelle.

What Anderson is probably most proud of is all the improvements the department made to get the city’s fire-insurance rating lowered from a four to a three in 1997. In looking back, Anderson said the department added a million gallon storage tank to the city system in 1990. That tank is located in Paradise Park. In 1992 a 12-inch water main was installed from the city’s east water treatment plant on Military Road to west Mai and Shady Lane.

“That created a major loop for that side of town and greatly improved water pressure for those residents,” Anderson said.

Keeping up with technology, Anderson said the department switched out the city water meters in 2007 replacing them with state- of -the-art meters that can be read by a mobile computer as an employee drives the route. “This saves us time and money which results in a savings for the customers,” he said.