By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
The New Albany Sewer Board has approved a new organizational structure and is in the process of interviewing applicants as privatization of the utility will end Dec. 31.
Environmental Management Corp. has handled day-to-day operations of the city’s sewer system and wastewater plant since 2001. But with Mayor Jeff Gahan favoring bringing the operation back in-house, EMC’s contract with the city will not be renewed when it expires at the end of the year.
James Garrard was recently hired by the board to serve as Sewer Utility Transition Director. He said he’s met with utility employees and EMC workers over the past month while reviewing operations of the system.
“The new organizational structure approved by the board will fulfill the needs of the utility, keep the city in compliance with the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency], and ensure that the utility remains on strong financial footing,” Garrard stated in a release following the board’s vote Thursday.
Essentially, the board isn’t creating new positions but seeking to hire workers for spots EMC employees are now being paid to fill. Sewer board member Ed Wilkinson said Friday he anticipates some EMC workers will apply for the jobs since they’re familiar with the tasks.
A rise in staffing costs isn’t expected with the end of privatization, as EMC was being paid $1.77 million annually under its deal with the city. Gahan said Friday the city anticipates savings from the move, but will hold off on announcing any cost cuts until the first quarter of 2013.
“We can with a lot of confidence say there’s not going to be any sewer rate increase next year,” said Gahan, who appointed himself as sewer board president earlier this year.
Wilkinson shared Gahan’s optimism for the switch in operational management.
“We’re very confident that we can move the city forward with the final stages of our EPA work and maintain a well-run system with the personnel that we currently have in place,” Wilkinson said.
The sewer board also approved employing a construction crew for lining work, which is a component of the city’s effort to reduce sanitary sewer overflows and end EPA oversight of the system.
Relining pipes will also cut down on the amount of excess water the city’s plant treats, Wilkinson continued. Avoiding problems with the EPA, continuing to improve the utility’s financial standing and improving service are the goals for the sewer department next year, Gahan said.
“We’re confident we can operate the utility even better than it’s been operated in the past,” he said.