Reserves at WG&L shown to be 'dangerously low'

ALBANY -- The Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission voted unanimously to request local officials in charge of a trust of credits awarded to WG&L by the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia to withdraw $1 million to cover the cost of repairs and to inject cash into the agency's fledgling reserve fund.

The Long Range Financial Planning Commission was originally created to hold in trust one-third of the roughly $90 million in MEAG credits that WG&L customers invested into what was believed to be the impending deregulation of the utility industry. That commission was instructed to invest that money so that future major expenditures would not have a detrimental impact on local taxpayers or WG&L customers.

But Tuesday, after learning that WG&L's reserve fund had dropped to $3 million, Albany Mayor and WG&L Board Chairman Willie Adams asked the board to request that the trust commission release $1 million to replenish WG&L's reserve coffers.

"I would say that is an amount that is dangerously low, given that this is a $100 million entity and our reserves are at $3 million," Vansant said.

Governments and other agencies typically keep three to six months of operating expenses in reserve so that, in the event of a major

catastrophe, government could continue to function in the short term.

But the WG&L board also learned Tuesday that two of their elevators needed replacing and had fallen out of compliance with federal guidelines designed to protect people with disabilities.

According to General Manager Lemuel Edwards, it would cost $254,000 to replace the two elevators. Additionally, another $126,000 is needed to repair the roof of WG&L's building on Roosevelt Street and to repair water damage to the building's basement.

None of those items is covered in the utility's FY 2010 budget and WG&L has no mechanism to fund the repairs, Edwards said.

Rather than ask for $1 million to go straight into the reserve fund, the board voted unanimously to ask the trust commiion to give $1 million to WG&L with $380,000 going to pay for the needed repairs and the remaining $620,000 going into its reserve fund.

The trust commission -- which comprises city officials and WG&L board members -- has met once since its creation two years ago. The board will likely call a special meeting soon to consider WG&L's request.