ALBANY, Ga. -- If Water, Gas & Light Commission board member Morris Gurr's interpretation of the city's charter is confirmed, WG&L officials will have to get clearance from its board before making any future purchase of $40,000 or more.
Gurr brought up the matter at Thursday's WG&L board meeting, drawing a quick rebuttal from General Manager Lemuel Edwards.
"You can't run a business that way; there's no way you can do that," Edwards said after Gurr suggested board approval was required. "This board -- and we try to sit down individually with each member -- looks at our budget, and that has always stood as approval (for major purchases).
"When you approve the budget, you authorize the purchases."
Gurr was not convinced.
"I think this board needs to be in the loop on large purchases," he said. "The charter clearly says that."
Board Chair and Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said she would be comfortable with Bob Hutchinson's suggestion that members of the WG&L board's Finance Committee meet with Edwards and Finance Director John Vansant to discuss large future purchases. Gurr, though, said he wants to discuss the matter further.
Gurr's recommendation came while Vansant was delivering a monthly financial statement. The finance director said one of the coolest Augusts on record had cut into projected electricity sales, leaving the utility $773,000 short of its budgeted income for the month.
Vansant said WG&L came up $6,000 below budget in the gas department during August, $78,000 below budget in water and $10,000 below expectations in telecommunications.
"We're making money; we've made $2.9 million," he said. "But we'd budgeted $3.6 million, so we're $643,000 below where we expected to be at this time."
When Vansant said WG&L's reserve fund is currently at $4.2 million, down from $4.7 million at the beginning of the fiscal year, Hutchinson asked why some of the revenue above costs was not being put back into the reserve fund.
"It's a cash-flow issue," Vansant said. "We don't do cash resister accounting. As soon as (electricity, water or gas) flows through a meter, we record it as revenue. But it may be 30 days or more before the money comes through a billing cycle."
WG&L Assistant General Manager for Operations Keith Goodin sought -- and received -- approval to purchase an acre of land from the state Department of Transportation for $45,250. Goodin said WG&L wants to build a needed water tower on the land near Kensington Court in northwest Albany.
"We've needed a new water tower in that area for years," he said. "It's not critical now, but it soon will be. We've been looking for land that would be acceptable to the public, but the quotes I've been getting in that area have been as much as $80,000 to $90,000."
Goodin said the need to pump water uphill on the elevated land in the area has lowered water pressure.
"The hotels out that way around the mall have had to put in pumps because there's not enough pressure to run their showers on the second and third floors," he said. "And with the price of land in that area, we didn't feel that we could pass this up."
Vansant said $2 million has been budgeted to build the tower, which Goodin said would cost around $2.4 million, but that the utility would most likely purchase bonds to finance the project.
Goodin also told the board he'd received a letter from the Environmental Protection Division with a start date for environmental cleanup of a former manufactured gas plant. EPD said "source removal" at the core of the site should start no later than March 13.
Hutchinson suggested the WG&L board send a letter to city officials by today offering a 50-50 split of the cost to clean up the site. Goodin said the projected cost for the investigative digging would be around $750,000.
The assistant general manager also relayed a request to the board from Flint RiverQuarium officials asking that the aquarium be allowed to dig its own well to alleviate the need for dechlorination of water currently supplied by WG&L.
"They're trying to cut costs, and this should not have a negative impact on us," Edwards said. "This would be easier on our well and cheaper for the RiverQuarium."
The board tabled the matter when Gurr said he'd like to have several questions about the request answered.