May 24, 2022. Joint Meeting. Helmsburg and Brown County Regional Sewer District (RSD) Boards. Engineering Reports and Rate Studies.
Scope. On the scope of the regionalization project (Lake Lemon, Helmbsurg, Bean Blossom, Woodland Lake), Helmsburg will be responsible for contracting for the engineering study to upgrade their current plant to support more customers. They will also be contracting for a “rate study” to identify the amount that can or may be charged to customers. State money can be used to buy down the monthly rates. It has been identified in past meetings that a $65.00- 85.00 a month charge is the preferred range. Helmsburg customers currently pay $92.50 a month for service. With more customers, the hope is that this rate might be reduced.
Purpose of the BCRSD? The BCRSD was established primarily to obtain sewer service for Bean Blossom. Their plans to build a new plant in Bean Blossom failed when they were unable to acquire land and after spending $220,000.
They have now assumed a responsibility to identify a new customer base for Helmsburg. This includes the collection system (lines, lift stations, residential tanks/pumps, etc). They will also contract for the preliminary engineering report (PER) and a “rate study” to identify the monthly charge to customers. The BCRSD will be billing the new customers and will send a consolidated invoice to the Helmsburg RSD. I do not know if the existing Helmsburg customers will also fall under BCRSD in terms of billing.
The engineering studies are needed to identify the requirements and needed capabilities required to get state and federal funding. Both boards received money the county received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to fund the engineering reports and rate studies.
Constraints on existing Service Providers. With the establishment of the BCRSD, an existing RSD cannot expand its boundaries without BCRSD approval. So now we have two RSDs supporting an area that could be served by one. There has been no discussions by elected officials about transitioning the BCRSD to an advisory-only role. A county wastewater strategic plan has been developed and approved by the BCRSD but not yet been shared via their website, with the public. This plan was intended to identify additional options for wastewater treatment such as “pocket plants.” The state has identified that centralization of management through a BCRSD (regionalization) is “preferable” to boards that can be appointed by elected officials or through a direct vote by the customers.
Centralization of power can be an impediment to providing the best services. Power corrupts. BCRSD is a case in point. Do their potential customers need and support sewer service? Do the customers agree on the criteria (age of homes, lack of records in the health department) that have been used to declare that their septic systems are failing? The BCRSD can mandate hook-ups. The HRSD has made this optional.
The existing RSDs and Nashville that provide wastewater treatment services, do not need a County RSD in order to provide service to customers. The HRSD service area could be expanded to include Lake Lemon and Bean Blossom. The HRSD could then develop a complete package designed in phases and submit for funding. Helmsburg and Lake Lemon have documented “needs.” Lake Lemon residents do support services and have a valid need, e.g., failing systems in flooding conditions. The HRSD could also expand its board to include a representative from Lake Lemon and Bean Blossom. A follow on phase could include serving an expanded area in Bean Blossom for those requesting service and assuming that the required easements can be obtained.
The BCRSD identified an expanded area for service in Bean Blossom that extends out to the Woodland Lake area and as north as Freeman Ridge. They have stated they will need 190 easements that based on the lack of a documented need, may be difficult to acquire. The current need is based on speculation regarding the age of homes and the lack of records in the health department. Any waivers that can be granted are only temporary. Water studies may indicate that “some” septic systems may be failing. If so, the next step is to identify the source and mitigation strategies.
Development through Expansion of Sewers. The core leadership of the local republican party (led by realtors), along with the commissioners and council support “development” through expansion of sewers as a desired outcome, e.g., a “want” in the county and particularly in Bean Blossom. The County Comprehensive Plan does not identify an expansion of sewers in the county as a desired strategy. The comprehensive plan should represent the “voice” of the citizens regarding what they want and do not want in terms of services and development
The BCRSD supports this agenda. No analysis has been done on the long-term financial sustainability of expanding sewers in areas without a need. Nashville has identified that the town’s customer base cannot sustain infrastructure costs – including sewer and water. The maintenance costs of infrastructure tend to continually rise and with a projected decline in the county population, fewer people will be paying the higher costs adding to the increasing cost of living in Brown County that can further contribute to gentrification.