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Commission OKs $1 million for WG&L

ALBANY -- The Albany City Commission voted 5-2 Monday to grant the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission's request for $1 million in emergency appropriations from a long-term planning account.

WG&L had asked the Long Range Financial Planning Committee -- which holds guardianship of roughly $30 million in credits from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia -- for access to the money to repair elevators, replace a damaged roof and purchase two new heavy trucks for the utility's fleet.

The balance, roughly estimated to be between $300,000 and $400,000, will flow into WG&L's reserve fund, which had been declared "dangerously low" by Finance Director John Vansant at the WG&L Board meeting this month when it was revealed the utility's reserves, which should be around $16 million, were hovering just above $3 million.

During Monday's discussion, City Manager Alfred Lott told the commission that financial woes for WG&L were worse than that, saying that as recently as just a few weeks ago the reserve fund had dipped below $1 million.

"That's puts them at risk if a storm or something should come through, so that's why the money would go into their reserves," Lott said.

The two dissenters on the commission, Commissioners Bob Langstaff and Roger Marietta, both pointed to the expenditure as unnecessary.

Langstaff, who sits on the planning committee but who was absent when it discussed the measure, said that he wants the money to remain largely untouched so that one day the city will be in a position to support significant economic development opportunities.

"I think it's a mistake to invade the corpus of this account," Langstaff said. "I think we should save it for longterm economic development."

Langstaff said that since WG&L rates currently rank at the bottom of most lists comparing utilities across the state, that its board should consider increasing rates slightly so that the repairs could be budgeted through the utility's general operations budget.

Marietta said he was uncomfortable approving the trucks because he didn't see where "two ladder trucks are an emergency item."

Commissioner Tommie Postell, who chairs the joint committee, defended the request, saying that the items were vital for operations at the utility and that trucks were in disrepair and not safe to operate.

"I'm not one to just be giving out money," he said. "But I'm for it if it protects the citizens and our employees."

Commissioner and joint committee member Dorothy Hubbard said for the record that she was against spending money without guidelines being in place on the committee level, but that it was explained to her that if the city didn't approve it, rates would have to be increased and that was something she couldn't allow.

Commissioner Christopher Pike suggested that the committee consider make funds available only through a process of reimbursements, much like the city's Community Development Department gives out Community Development Block Grants. That way, he said, you would know exactly what money was being spent upon and the city could get a grip on any possible waste.