By Bob Robinson
The City of Elizabethton, faced with an aging infrastructure that dates back more than 100 years, is slowly gaining an upper hand on repairing water leaks, replacing broken sewer lines and expanding and upgrading existing electric substations and distribution systems to meet demands over the next 50 years — all without a property tax hike to foot the bill.
A reorganization of staff and responsibilities is the foundation for the improvements now underway and planned for the future City Manager Fred Edens, who was appointed to his position on April 7, 2007, by Elizabethton City Council, is relying on his military background and “span and control” experiences to restructure his staff to improve efficiencies in providing city services.
In July 2012, water and sewer departments were combined into a single division to provide greater efficiencies. Overseeing water, sewer, electric and engineering departments is Johann Coetzee, utilities director. “The organizational structure is still being finalized,” Coetzee said.
Coetzee’s direct reports are Jim Roberts, manager of water/wastewater construction; Ed Mullins, manager of water/wastewater treatment; Rob Toney, general manager of the Elizabethton Electric Division; and Mike Potter, transportation engineering planner.
Other members of Edens’ staff are:
— Jon Hartman, planning director. Hartman’s direct reports are Robert Montgomery, chief building official; Mike Mains, parks and recreation director; and Melodi Goff, library director;
— Danny Hilbert, street and sanitation manager;
— Fire Chief Barry Carrier;
— Police Chief Matt Bailey;
— Gerald Harrell, purchasing director;
— Angie Lyons, personnel & risk management director; and,
— Jerome Kitchens, finance director.
In a recent roundtable discussion with the STAR, members of Edens’ staff explained how their respective departments were increasing productivity and reducing costs to benefit taxpayers.
Elizabethton Electric Division
Several capital projects are already underway, including the $4.8 million upgrade and rebuild of the Hampton Substation to meet growth over the next 50 years, according to Ron Toney, general manager of the Elizabethton Electric Division.
A new electricity transmission line is being installed from Hatcher Lane to Hampton at a cost of $3.75 million. The project is expected to be completed by December 2012.
Another project to improve efficiency and reliability of the electric system, soon to begin, will be the installation of a fiber optic cable to connect automated systems at the West Elizabethton Substation located behind Sycamore Shoals Hospital. A fiber optic cable already connects the electric substation in the Watauga Industrial Park located on State Highway 91 North.
The City of Elizabethton has no plans now to carry data over the fiber optic cable but if anyone is interested in discussing a lease arrangement of the excess capacity, Coetzee said the city would gladly talk to them.
In the area of cost-savings, the City of Elizabethton realized a savings of $300,000 in an underground electric distribution construction project at Quail Hollow. The original project cost was estimated at $700,000.
Water and Sewer
Sewer and water lines in the City of Elizabethton were installed in the early 1920s when TVA built Wilbur Dam, Coetzee said. “It will take 10 to 15 years to repair the infrastructure. We need to have a plan to make repairs to the infrastructure and not leave it up to our children and grandchildren,” Coetzee added.
According to Coetzee, the average water consumption for all City of Elizabethton residential customers in the City and County is about 4,000 gallons per month. The average net water bill (without sales tax and capital fee) is $25.42. Almost all sewer customers served by the City of Elizabethton live inside the Elizabethton City limits. The average sewer bill is based on 3,900 gallons per month water use. The average net sewer bill is $22.17.
Water and sewer capital projects include:
— A $500,000 block development grant to finance a sewer improvement project in the East Side Community.
— A $2.8 million revolving loan was obtained to replace sludge equipment at the wastewater treatment plant, provide a 40- year pump station upgrade, and build a new wastewater fork main to the Sycamore Shoals Pumping Station.
— Placement of a new Hampton water pipeline, financed by a $1 million revolving loan fund, to replace the 102-year-old water pipeline there now. Bid documents, now being reviewed by the state of Tennessee, will go out the last of August. The new pipeline is scheduled to be in the ground by Oct. 1, 2012.
— A $1.5 million project to replace water meters and repair leaking water lines is designed to improve cash flow. A four-man crew, dedicated exclusively to repairing leaking water lines along the 131 miles of city streets, is scheduled to begin work in the next two weeks.
Since May 2011, when Jim Roberts was hired by the City of Elizabethton as water/wastewater construction manager the number of customer complaints has been reduced from 600 to 65. According to Roberts, the wait time for water taps has been reduced to 10 days and 104 new taps have been provided; 50 fire hydrants, among 400 in the city, have been repaired or replaced.
Repairs to yards, sidewalks and streets related to 700 water leak repairs in the city are currently underway; 550 water leaks have been repaired. Today, there are 250 open leaks and 65 known leaks, according to Roberts. “We rely on the general public to report water leaks,” Roberts said.
Street and Sanitation
A priority of the Street and Sanitation Department has been the replacement and installation of warning signs mandated by law. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is the national standard for all traffic control devices on any street or highway open to public travel. The MUTCD requires signs to be either illuminated or made with retro reflective sheeting materials. To date, more than 100 warning signs have been replaced or installed throughout the City of Elizabethton, said Danny Hilbert, street and sanitation manager.
Last fiscal year, 23 curb cuts were made to provide more handicapped access to sidewalks. “More than 241 yards of concrete was poured to cover more than 3,300 feet of sidewalk,” Hilbert said.
Allen Avenue, Second Street, South Lynn Avenue and Hudson Drive were repaved, recently, at a total cost of $177,521, which included milling, asphalt and stripping. South Sycamore, Florence and Trudy Streets were resurfaced last year.
To Be Continued on Sunday, Aug. 19.
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