City group recommends $1.2M payout from MEAG

ALBANY -- A group of city commissioners and Albany Water, Gas & Light Commissioners tapped as the guardians of $30 million in credits from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, unanimously voted to recommend pulling $1.2 million to fund emergency repairs at WG&L and an expansion of the city's Gang Unit.

During a called meeting Monday at the government center, the five members of the Longterm Financial Planning Committee, minus one commissioner, elected a chairman, drafted bylaws and approved the payout to help a struggling WG&L pay for repairs to replace elevators and a leaky roof and to fund a new position with gang unit and purchase two cars.

Both entities acknowledged Monday that their requests for money may be considered outside the intended goals for the "longterm" account, but argued that both requests constituted emergency funding.

WG&L Manager Lemuel Edwards said that the organization is without the funding necessary to bring two of their three elevators back into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and replace the roof of their building on the 300 block of East Roosevelt Avenue and that the only alternative is to raise rates.

"If the funds don't come from here, then the only other alternative is to raise rates," Edwards said.

Additionally, Edwards said that the company has aging bucket trucks that could pose a risk to operators who depend on the units to work on the 589 miles of power lines running throughout the area.

In total, the WG&L board approved requests from the LFPC for $1 million to cover the cost of the repairs and to help increase the company's fledgling reserves, which are down to $3 million. A study done by an independent engineering firm in 1980 provided a formula that says given WG&L's $100 million budget, their reserves should be around $16 million.

The city also requested a $200,000 allocation to hire an additional person and purchase two cars for the gang unit.

After much discussion on both issues, the group voted unanimously to recommend to the city commission to pull the $1.2 million from the fund.

Committee Chairman and City Commissioner Tommie Postell, who defended dipping into the fund --- which currently has $2.6 million -- as an emergency, said following the meeting that it was vital to spend the money on the gang unit because revenues are expected to drop during the city's budget cycle by $4 million.

"Our revenues are going to be down this year but the commission has made it its top priority to deal with gangs and public safety," Postell said. "Things are moving forward with them but to keep them headed in that direction, they need this position and the cars."

During the meeting, Committee Member and WG&L Board Member Andrew Reid questioned Postell about the money, asking where it would come from next year.

"We've discussed it with the city manager's office and this money is enough to last through 2011 and after that the city would absorb it," Postell said.

The fund was created out of an agreement between the city commission and WG&L board to split $90 million over the next 10 years in MEAG credits that were saved in the event of deregulation three ways.

Thirty million dollars would end up in the city's general fund, another $30 million would go to WG&L and the last $30 million would end up in the hands of the LFPC for long term projects or funding.

The board also voted, on its third try, to elect Postell as chairman of the group.

City Commissioner Dorothy Hubbard said that she was hesitant to use the money and believes that it should be tucked away, gaining interest so that, in the event of a major disaster or possibly for economic development purposes, they would have a significant amount accumulated.

WG&L Board Member and State Rep. Carol Fullerton first nominated Hubbard for the post, but she declined. Fullerton then nominated Reid, but that motion died from a lack of second. Finally, Fullerton nominated Postell, who was seconded and then accepted by those in attendance. City Commissioner Bob Langstaff wasn't present.