Monday, October 25, 2010

Candidates Call for Shake-Up at CFPUA

Some see restructuring and a change in leadership as part of the fix 

They may come from different parties, but they all agree on one thing: There is a need for change at the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. New Hanover County Commissioner candidates have discussed everything from sky rocketing rates and spending, to the complete reorganization of the struggling utility.

Each of the candidates is quick to explain they understand there are things that need to be fixed in the aging water and sewer infrastructure. They also agree the spending and rate increases have got to be brought under control. Three of the candidates, Berger, Butler, and Catlin have each stated they want seats on the Authority board if elected.

Brian Berger is one of the most outspoken candidates on the Authority. He warned citizens of potential problems with the authority in 2007, long before it was ever created. In hindsight, his insight now seems somewhat prophetic. Ultimately Berger would like to see the Authority dissolved but comments that may not be possible at this point.

This past week Deborah Butler called for the removal of CEO Matt Jordan during an interview on the a local radio show The Morning Beat with Chad Adams.  NHC Commissioner Chairman Jason Thompson has called for Jordans removal as well if the situation does not improve.

Butler is also an outspoken opponent to the Authority’s tiered rate water structure, which is punitive to families. Authority reports back up Butlers concerns. 

Butler’s website had the following statement on the CFPUA: “…the merger that created the CFPUA was not properly supervised by the County Commission resulting in delinquent billing, disruptive Landlord/Tenant policies, and unrecoverable accounts receivable. Further, the rates have dramatically increased while the CEO is receiving “incentive” monies. Meanwhile, parts of the County still don’t have the sewer service they were promised years and years ago and the infrastructure continues to fail contaminating our environment.”

Rick Catlin believes the CFPUA should be dissolved and completely restructured if possible. Catlin has also stated the current rate of spending and price increases is unsustainable.

Catlin’s website had the following comments on the CFPUA: “I do not believe the Authority is sustainable. They have no way to pay for decades of deferred maintenance except through higher and higher usage fees. The Authority exists outside the traditional concepts of accountability and will continue to struggle to maintain and expand basic public health services as a self-sufficient utility enterprise. I believe clean water and sanitation are basic responsibilities of local government. We need to make substantive changes to the Authority.”

Sid Causey is one of the more reserved candidates when it comes to the CFPUA. But even Causey expressed concerns over the utility rates running people out of the county.

Accountability of the CFPUA to the citizens, or lack there of, is a common concern. When the authority was created, control of water and sewer utilities were handed from officials who were elected to an appointed board. Citizens found themselves being governed by a government corporation, with little or no voice in its direction or decisions making.

The candidates concerns are well founded. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority was created under NC General Statute 162A. Under that statute the Authority is given the unregulated ability to spend money and raise rates. It is also exempted from oversight by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Voters will decide on November 2nd who their new county commissioners will be. The face of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority will change soon there after.