New offices for MSD?

The Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County is considering spending about $3.6 million to renovate the former Carolina Power & Light building on Riverside Drive, for use as a new MSD office building.

Some MSD board members and staff believe that concentrating employees in one building would be more efficient. They say the current MSD administration building could be rented out.

Others feel the new building is unnecessary — and that it’s particularly hard to justify the expense when revenues from residential sewer fees are flat, and industrial sewer-fee payments are dropping. The closing of Gerber Products, alone, is expected to cost the district $450,000 a year in lost revenues.

The sewerage district already is spending about $2.8 million for a new, centralized fleet-maintenance building on former CP&L land near the sewage-treatment plant. The district bought that property and the old CP&L building for $425,565.

The MSD board had toyed with the idea of constructing a new administration building, at a cost of roughly $6.4 million. But in January, the board decided that it would be smarter to consider rehabbing the existing structure.

Architects Con Dameron and Bill Langdon of Architectural Resource Collaborative, Asheville, would produce the renovation plans for $226,375.

During the Feb. 18 MSD board meeting, Chairman Larry Casper requested a more organized financial plan for the project. He noted that the maintenance-shed project had gradually increased in cost, from $1.5 million to $2.8 million, and he expressed concern that the renovation project’s cost might similarly escalate.

Jim Fatland, MSD’s deputy general manager for administration, told the Mountain Xpress that the renovations could be financed by adding another $4 million worth of bonds to this year’s planned $38.5 million bond issue.

If the board approved the renovations, it would cost sewer customers about $400,000 a year for 25 years to pay off the bond debt.

The project will be discussed during the MSD Planning Committee meeting on March 5, and again during the March 18 board meeting. The board meets at 2 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month in the current administration center on Riverside Drive, just north of the sewage-treatment plant. The meetings are open to the public.

Less education, please

Should MSD’s second-in-command be required to have an engineering background?

Board member Tom Sobol suggested that MSD administrators don’t necessarily need to be trained engineers, just as hospital administrators don’t have to be doctors.

Sobol led a charge to reduce the educational requirements for the position of deputy general manager of operations — the person who would be in line for MSD’s top spot when General Manager Bill Mull retires.

During the Feb. 18 board meeting, five of the eight board members present said they thought the requirements should be loosened.

However, if the district wants to hire or promote a non-engineer to the head job, it will be required to get permission from two-thirds of the roughly 1,500 people who hold MSD’s outstanding bond notes.

New MSD board member Barbara Field, an architect, lobbied against the more lenient job description. There are plenty of professionals trained in both engineering and administration, she argued, adding, “I don’t think you’re limiting yourself by requiring some kind of engineering education.”

Mull said it wouldn’t make sense to hire a non-engineer to be groomed as his successor.

A final decision has not yet been made.

By the numbers

MSD’s board has decided to hire the Asheville accounting firm Killian, Cole & Marshall to do three more fiscal-year audits.

The most recent MSD audit, for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1997, left staffers scrambling to figure out why the bottom was falling out of Asheville’s residential sewer-fee revenues. Actually, the revenue dropped only slightly, and several MSD board members agreed that Killian, Cole & Marshall should have double-checked an incorrect number provided by the city of Asheville.

Still, the accounting firm earned points for encouraging the sewerage district to keep a closer watch on the municipalities collecting sewer fees from their water customers on behalf of the district. The firm is getting a 5 percent raise each year — $17,700 this year, $18,600 in 1999, and $19,500 in 2000 — plus extra cash during years when there are bond issues or “unexpected circumstances.”

Film at 11

The MSD board has agreed to spend up to $230,000 for closed-circuit-television equipment, including two mobile cameras to check the insides of pipes for leaks. The cameras generally can travel about 500 feet into the pipes — or farther, if winches are used.

The board waived the normal requirement for an open bidding process, because MSD staff said they knew of only one company — Pierpoint in Thousand Oaks, Calif. — that sells these specialized, explosion-proof cameras.

MSD is replacing equipment purchased in 1991, partly because it is worn out and partly because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires sewer-line cameras that won’t explode. A district that doesn’t have such special cameras runs the risk of getting caught, Mull told the board.

In a letter dated Dec. 15, 1997, MSD Director of System Services Ann Pier Sutton wrote, “As we have had at least three instances of explosive gases in the district collection system since 1991, I feel we should be moving in this safety direction.”

Board member Glenn Kelly repeatedly asked whether the cost had been included in this year’s budget. He received no answer, although Fatland said that money is available to cover the purchase.

Read all about it

Buncombe County already produces its own publication. And now, MSD is following suit.

MSD board members agreed to pay marketing consultant Diane Delafield of Mars Hill $15,500 to produce a 16-page, quarter-fold tabloid to communicate with the public. MSD also agreed to pay the Asheville Citizen-Times $5,000 to insert that tabloid in about 45,000 newspapers in mid-July.

“I’m a businessperson, and [I know that] to get good press, maybe you have to do a little business with them,” board member Bob Selby said.

The tabloid will discuss several topics, such as Asheville’s aging sewer system, Buncombe County’s unusually high sewer fees, and the controversy over sewer-line extensions.

The tabloid will also promote the use of Nutri-Lime, recycled sewage sludge that has been converted into fertilizer. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows the use of Nutri-Lime on food crops, many people are concerned that it may contain dangerous trace metals from industrial processes.

Crystal clear

In the wake of the recent French Broad River controversy, Rep. Charles Taylor has announced a cleanup project of his own.

When Taylor announced that he would not support the designation of the French Broad as an American Heritage River, many western North Carolina residents were furious. They fretted over the potential loss of federal funds for river-improvement projects.

Now, however, Taylor has offered to help federal and local officials decide which river cleanups should be federally funded to protect Buncombe County’s water quality. Accordingly, Taylor has asked for a list of projects that would help clean up WNC rivers.

Board member Selby has delivered MSD’s environmental wish-list to Taylor’s office.

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