Albany utility, Dougherty School System propose partnership

Mayor Dorothy Hubbard prepares for Thursday’s Water, Gas & Light Commission meeting at the utility’s Pine Avenue offices. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Mayor Dorothy Hubbard prepares for Thursday’s Water, Gas & Light Commission meeting at the utility’s Pine Avenue offices. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — The city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission board approved Thursday a service agreement and voted to recommend that the Albany City Commission enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the Dougherty County School System. The DCSS pact would create what interim WG&L General Manager Tom Berry called a “great partnership with the school system” that could remain in place for 25 years while providing wireless Internet service to every student in the system.

Berry said the utility could transition from its current broadband service to “dark fiber” that would allow the school system to “provide bandwidth at whatever level they want.” The utility GM said the school system is making significant technological strides, and the city utility would be wise to form a partnership that would allow it to provide the infrastructure to meet the system’s needs.

“They’re really moving forward with technology over there, and our current agreement with them does not meet their future needs,” Berry said. “This intergovernmental agreement we’re proposing would allow us to do that, and part of the beauty is that we would not have to compete to provide the service in what could be a very competitive process. This agreement would provide for a partnership that could last 25 years.”

Berry said the school system would pay $15,000 in monthly fees under the new agreement, significantly less than the $36,000 it currently pays. But he noted that the agreement would include some $225,000 in up-front costs and that the system’s plan to provide wireless service to all of its students would provide the utility with an opportunity to expand its services to the entire community.

“Think about the possibility of having WiFi citywide,” Berry said. “That’s what you’ll get to if the school system moves forward with its plan. This could create an enormous opportunity that would be good for the community and good for Water, Gas & Light.”

The utility board also voted to approve the addition of “Portfolio 4” as part of its agreement with the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia. The agreement would give the authority the “ability to acquire additional gas supplies,” according to Berry, and extend members’ commitment to 2025.

City CFO JoEllen Brophy told the board city/WG&L finance staff are “making a lot of progress in getting to the end goal of executing our new financial structure.” Noting that her office had used WG&L reserve funding to deal with a “cash-flow problem” at the utility in March, Brophy said a “drastic cutback in expenditures” and the influx of Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia funding would allow Finance to “put about $5.5 million back into our reserve fund.”

Brophy also said she’s working with the utility’s telecommunications staff to implement late fees for telcom customers. Brophy said she expects the fees to be a minimum of $15 for smaller customers and 1.5 percent of the bill for larger users.

Berry said he would provide further information at a later date, but a public hearing has been tentatively scheduled from 3 to 8 p.m. at the West Albany Best Western on May 27 to answer questions about plans to build a water tower in that part of the city. The tower would alleviate “sometimes dangerously low” water pressure in the area.