“We’re in a position to take our water department back,” Mayor Bill Hereford said at a Thursday council work session.
Hereford said newly hired city engineer Essam Ahmad will oversee the water department, and the city will hire new water department employees.
He said the city could save money by bringing the operation of the water department back in-house.
“Sooner or later, our intent was to take it back,” Hereford told the council.
Councilman Donnie Todd said it was Hereford who originally wanted to contract the management of the water department to SouthWest Water Company, and he agreed it would cost the city less money by contracting the work out.
Todd said there were never any discussions about the city ever taking the water department back.
“I always thought we were (going to take it back),” Councilwoman Dot Wood.
Until Thursday night, there were no public discussions about the city taking back the management of its water department.
It was only about a year ago that the mayor and council hired SouthWest Water Company to manage the water department for about $600,000 a year.
According to the agreement, both parties have the right to terminate the agreement for convenience, with or without cause, with a 120-day written notice to the other party.
Hereford is expected to ask the council at Monday night’s meeting to approve a resolution to terminate the city’s contract with SouthWest Water Company.
“… The city of Pell City has determined that it is in the best interests of its citizens that the city resume the control, operation, management and maintenance of its water distribution system, and that the agreement with SouthWest be terminated for convenience pursuant to Section 5.03 of such agreement …” the proposed resolution states.
Councilman Donnie Guinn said he had huge concerns about taking over the water department.
“Why are we doing this right now?” he asked, adding that he wanted a better explanation for the cancellation of SouthWest Water Company’s contract. “Look how far we have come, yet we’re going to do this on a whim and maybe we can take it back and run it. I don’t see it.”
Guinn and Todd said if city officials are not satisfied with SouthWest Water Company, there are other companies the city could hire, including one that is operating the county water treatment plant, Clearwater Solutions.
Todd said SouthWest Water Company was doing a much better job than the city was doing prior to the utility company taking the reins.
“SouthWest has done absolutely the best with what we gave them,” he said.
He also accused Hereford of polling the council for votes.
“You told me there’s already four votes to do this,” Todd said, directing his comment to Hereford. “We haven’t done any due diligence."
Todd said he hasn’t been shown any numbers as to how the city was going to benefit financially by taking back the management of the water department.
He said Hereford wants to have the two court clerks collect water and sewer payments, and the city engineer has too much on his plate now.
“How is he going to run a water department, too?” Todd asked. “Show me what this is going to cost me every month. Show me the numbers. I’m not saying we can’t do it.”
The council voted to hire SouthWest Water Company by a 5-1 vote.
Councilman Greg Gossett was the lone councilman to vote against hiring SouthWest Water Company.
“Everybody knows I voted against it,” he said.
Gossett said he was still in favor of bringing the management of the water department back in-house.
“I would like to see it happen,” he said.
Councilman James McGowan said he voted to hire SouthWest Water Company, but he also wanted the water department managed in-house.
Contact David Atchison at email@example.com.