ALBANY — After interim Water, Gas & Light Commission General Manager Tom Berry updated the WG&L board Thursday morning on previously independent in-house services that are gradually being incorporated into similar city services, City Manager James Taylor offered the board a slice of reality.
“We have to get past this thing of ‘us vs. them,’” Taylor told the board. “The objective of combining these services is to find efficiencies that will save the taxpayers of this community money. Yes, it’s going to be different, a new view of the universe. But these are things that need to be done.”
Though he didn’t say as much, Taylor’s comments apparently were in response to WG&L board members Chad Warbington’s and Bob Hutchinson’s recent remarks about the continued viability of the utility board.
“I think we all understand that change is inevitable,” Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, who serves as chair of the WG&L board, said after Taylor’s comments. “We may not see the benefits at first, but after a while we can look back and say, ‘This may work.’”
The utility’s finances have already been moved under the umbrella of city CFO JoEllen Brophy, and Berry said other planned mergers will impact WG&L’s vehicle maintenance and its payroll. Both Berry and Taylor indicated the plan does not include any loss of jobs.
In a report to the board about attendance of the recent Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia meeting, Warbington said he’s convinced WG&L is falling too far behind in converting vehicles to operate on compressed natural gas.
“We’ve really got to put this in fast motion,” the board member said. “There are some amazing numbers in savings that they threw at us. We’ve got to get moving on this. We’re looking at $2-a-gallon fuel as compared to $4-a-gallon. We have an opportunity to cut our fuel costs in half.”
Hubbard, too, said the utility and city should step up plans to make the conversion to compressed natural gas.
“We can’t be left behind on this,” she said. “We have to be on the cutting edge.”
In the first financial report presented to the board under accounting practices utilized citywide, Brophy offered board members what she said was a “more realistic” look at the various departments within the utility. For instance, Brophy pointed out that the water department is operating at a 10 percent loss.
“For every dollar we’re billing our customers, we’re paying an extra 10 cents,” Brophy said.
Berry said some of that inefficiency involves WG&L putting in place infrastructure capable of producing 36 million gallons of water per day for a system that is using only 14 million. Asked by Hubbard why that inequity existed, Berry said the work was done long before he arrived in Albany.
“But what we can do is expand, find more water customers,” he said.
Brophy also pointed out that 81 percent of the funding in WG&L’s light department is coming via MEAG reimbursement transfers. Berry ominously added, “Which we know runs out in 2018.”
Also at Thursday’s meeting, Hubbard announced that recently appointed WG&L board member Rashad Flournoy had sent a letter of resignation, indicating board responsibilities conflicted with his work schedule as a law enforcement instructor at Albany Technical College. Flournoy said after the meeting he will maintain his position as an appointed member of the city’s Citizens Police Review Board.
“This was never about not wanting to serve, but the timing of the (WG&L) meetings conflicted with my work schedule,” Flournoy said. “The Citizens Review Board meets on an as-needed basis and usually after my work hours, so there is no conflict there. It is still my interest to serve the citizens of Albany.”