The Kentucky Public Service Commission hearing held in Frankfort last week for the Southern Water & Sewer District rate increase application left a lot of questions unanswered.
At this point in the juncture, we don’t know if Southern Water will transfer the water customers Prestonsburg thought it would receive when the asset management transfer deal was approved by the PSC in 2017.
We also don’t know several other things, like whether the district gave out free water in exchange for personal services or, more importantly, how many years it will take Southern to dig itself out of its behemoth water loss rate of 60 percent.
This hearing, however, did teach us all at least one great lesson: Politics should have absolutely nothing to do with the water services provided to Floyd County residents.
Former Floyd County Judge Executive Ben Hale denied allegations that were made by Southern Water commissioners and others who testified at this hearing.
He denied testimony in which it’s alleged that he and the fiscal court asserted “political pressure” onto Southern Water board members so they would accept this deal with Prestonsburg — knowing it was rotten — and the Floyd County Fiscal Court wouldn’t have to pay to the Southern Water & Sewer bond. He denied that he asked Southern board members not to file the rate increase request before the election so he’d have a chance to be elected again.
When we write stories in the Floyd County Chronicle and Times, we make every effort to ensure that both sides are presented fairly. So, Hale’s denial of those allegations are very important.
But they do no negate the sworn testimony given by at least six people who assert otherwise. Those who testified said they reluctantly voted “yes” to this transfer because of that political pressure.
Southern Water commissioners, we’re sure, would do things differently if they had the chance to turn back the clock. We know that because we watched them say that on the stand. They should have voted for what they knew their ratepayers needed. They should have done the research themselves.
It is abundantly clear that if, indeed, “political pressure” was asserted for the betterment of the election cycle, rather than Southern Water ratepayers, then that is just one of many injustices here.
Regardless of who is telling the truth in this “political pressure” scenario, it was clear, in all testimony given, that Southern Water has taken a lot of missteps over the years and it has a severe mismanagement problem.
When politics sticks its hands too deeply into an organization that is vital to so many residents, you get a big ole’ pot of dirty water. Nothing good can come of it. Add a heaping spoonful of mismanagement to that bucket, and you might as well toss it all out.
It appears Southern Water commissioners and officials have been getting the training they need from the state, as required. It appears they could also use a bit of training on financial accounting and strategic planning on things like incrementally replacing 50-year old pipe — things that could have help them dig Southern Water out of this hole years ago.