Oneida’s Water and Wastewater Board, which directs the town’s Water and Wastewater Department, may soon be disbanded and its duties absorbed by the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Oneida Mayor Jack E. Lay confirmed Friday that discussion of the water board will be on the agenda for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s next meeting, slated for Feb. 21, but called reports that the water board has already been dissolved premature.
“There are all sorts of rumors out there, and most of them aren’t true,” Mayor Lay said.
The mayor’s comments followed an informal request by the Independent Herald for minutes of the water board’s most recent — and perhaps its last — meeting on Jan. 21.
The Independent Herald made that telephone request after conflicting versions of the board’s future came to light Friday. There were some indications that the water board had disbanded of its own accord, while members of the water board indicated that they were informed at the Jan. 21 meeting that the board was being dissolved.
W.O. West, a long-time member of the water board, said that the board was informed by former Water & Wastewater manager Johnny Acres that a decision had been made by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to dissolve the water board. Acres made that revelation to members of the water board as he informed them of his decision to retire, effective Jan. 29.
Both West and Terry Roark, another long-time member of the water board who was not present at the Jan. 21 meeting, said that the board serves at the discretion of the Town of Oneida and would not contest any decision the Board of Mayor and Aldermen makes.
Mayor Lay acknowledged the minutes’ account of Acres telling the board that it had been dissolved, but said that action had not been taken.
“Johnny asked me what we were going to do (about the board) and I told him it would probably be phased out over the next six-to-eight months, depending on what the board wanted to do,” Lay said.
However, that won’t be official until and unless it is approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen at its meeting later this month.
At least one alderman appears ready to spearhead efforts to make it official. Cecil Anderson, who spoke with the Independent Herald Friday, said the move is overdue.
“The water board can’t make a lot of official decisions (regarding the water department),” Anderson said. “It falls back on us.”
Anderson, who has sparred with Acres and the water board in the past, said that making some changes — including moving management of the Water & Wastewater Department under the umbrella of the mayor’s office — can save the town’s water customers and its taxpayers unnecessary expenditures.
The water department’s financial status has led to some concern over state intervention. Prior to Friday, the Independent Herald learned that the Board of Mayor and Aldermen were summoned to Nashville last month to face a regulatory panel’s questions about the financial state of the department.
According to West, meanwhile, the water department’s finances have improved in the months since they first publicly came to light in a joint meeting between the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the water board last year.
“We are coming into compliance with state regulations,” West said. “I told the board at our last meeting that it looks like the money is there for debt service, maintenance of equipment, and it really looks as though we’re in decent shape.”
Meanwhile, Lay said that a retirement celebration for Acres — who served as manager of the water department for more than 20 years — will be held at a later date.
“He’s been here a long time,” Lay said. “He’s done a lot.”
At least as far as the near future is concerned, Acres will not be replaced. Instead, management of the water department will be absorbed by the mayor’s office, with its supervisors under the direction of the mayor’s office similar to the way the town’s street and sanitation departments work. If the water board is in fact dissolved, its duties will be performed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Lay indicated that more information would be made publicly available when the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meet Feb. 21.