Rockdale Water Resources is back in the black - just barely - after years of multi-million dollar losses.
Rockdale Water Resources Director Dwight Wicks reported after a multi-pronged attack addressing delinquent accounts, better tracking accounts, implementing new software, more fully staffing the department and implementing a rate increase, a net income of about $60,500 for 2011.
In the past two years, RWR had net losses of about $1.4 million in 2010 and about $2.42 million in 2009.
"The system we put in place is working," said Wicks to the Board of Commissioners earlier this month in his annual review of RWR's performance. "We've still got to address the net assets as they continue to fall, because of the capital cost contributions. But we've certainly got the ship turned around. For the first time, we were able to pay all our expenses and be a little bit in the black."
Wicks highlighted the difference in the years when he was heading RWR in 2005 to 2007 and 2009 to 2011. For 2008, RWR reported a net loss of $5.348 million - its highest net loss in the past 10 years.
"You can see the difference in performance results I was able to deliver," said Wicks.
Last month, the Board of Commissioners decided in a 2-1 vote, with Chairman Richard Oden voting against, to not renew Wicks contract when it expired at the end of December. This was right after Water and Sewerage Authority had recommended to the BOC that Wicks' contract not be renewed following months of growing dissention between the Authority and RWR.
During the annual review, Wicks said he was given several charges when he was rehired after Oden came into office in 2009. Among them were RWR's financial performance, poor customer service, collecting money owed on delinquent accounts, and non-revenue water loss.
"The plan I put in place to address these was simple. We developed a strategic plan. In that plan it called for hiring qualified personnel... We did key investments in technology. We did process improvements using the Baldrige process," Wicks said.
For the delinquent accounts, Wicks said fully implementing the Cogsdale software, which was finalized during 2010, helped RWR manage its accounts. RWR has 25,000 water customers and about 11,000 sewer customers.
"With the aid of Cogsdale, we captured almost $1M in additional revenue with delinquent accounts, staying current on our billings. We had only expected to get in about $300,000. That's to enable us to climb into the black, finally," he said.
Delinquent accounts more than 150 days old are now given to a collector.
With customer service, Wicks said 86 percent of calls were now being answered, compared to 74 percent of calls in 2010.
Wicks also reported that the amount of non-revenue water, or water being lost and not paid for, went down from 36 percent to about 27.9 percent. He said the more typical loss seen in the industry is about 18 percent.
"We made two major changes. We implemented pressure zones and we're also spending money on our high pressure pump stations, so we can put the proper amount of pressure in the upper part of the county and lower part of the county."
He also pointed out that RWR was able to bring its books into balance despite the money from Capital Cost Recovery fees drying up. CCR fees, which are paid by developers to have access to water and sewer services, hit a peak in 2006 with $6.2 million and dwindled to $2.8 million in 2007, $1.2 million in 2008, and about $400,000 in 2011.
"Our operating income was being generated by our CCR fees," said Wicks. The fees were supposed to be used for capital maintenance instead.
It was not until a rate increase in 2009 - the first in 10 years, said Wicks - that the expenses and revenues started to come closer together.
To see PDFs of Wicks' presentation, go to www.rockdalenews.com
In a largely symbolic gesture this past Thursday, the Water and Sewerage Authority voted 4-1 to rescind part of its earlier recommendation to the Board of Commissioners not to renew contract of Rockdale Water Resources Director Dwight Wicks when it finishes at the end of the year. They left in place the recommendation to immediately advertise for the position.
During the three-hour Thursday morning meeting, the five Authority members went into executive session for about half an hour to discuss the matter; members Tom Fox and Chip Hatcher were not present.
Authority member Phyllis Turner said the vote was largely a procedural matter, since the BOC had already voted last month to not renew Wicks' contract at the end of December. Authority member Garvin Haynes, who voted against it, said there was "no logical reason" for the vote and that it would send mixed signals to the BOC. He said he would rather wait and see if the concerns the Authority had regarding Wicks were improved.
Authority member Bill Murrain had proposed rescinding the recommendation on Wicks' contract because he felt it went beyond the scope of what it should go.
Also in attendance in the audience was Wicks and about six members of Wicks' church; five of the attendees spoke in support of Wicks before the executive session.
Wicks said after the meeting, "They're going in the right direction." Although, he added, the Authority was not quite there.
Authority Chair Elaine Nash said after the meeting, "Both of us were at fault in poor communication, and we're trying to correct that now."
She pointed out the motion also included a recommendation that the RWR director "spend the next two months trying to get the performance issues resolved."
"His actions will speak louder than any words," said Nash.
The Authority delved into reforming their bylaws and discussed if there was a way to remove an Authority member, since all members are appointed by the BOC.