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Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series about the seven special districts serving Marion County, as identified by the State Auditor’s Office as part of an effort to increase public awareness of how their money is spent. In the coming months, the Enterprise will be taking a closer looking at the special districts that serve Marion County, how they are funded, and what they do for the community.
Many people take for granted that clean water will come out when they turn on the faucet, but not Barbara May.
“A lot of people don’t realize what a valuable asset your water is. People like me who didn’t have it for years and years really appreciate it more than especially the younger generations,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing to have.”
Running water is not just a convenience issue for May, it’s also personal. She has been a member of the Marion County Water District Board of Commissioners since 1984, and the chairwoman of the board since 1997.
“It used to be years ago that water was just on the other end of the county,” said May, who lives in the Bradfordsville area. “They ended up putting me and Chip Whitehouse on [the board] in order to help people get water out here.”
The water district was established in 1969, and today it serves “99.9 percent” of Marion County residents (outside of Lebanon), according to Jimmy Mudd, the district’s general manager.
He explained that a few county residents live on side roads that will probably never be served because of geographic barriers that make it cost prohibitive.
The district covers Marion County and a small portion of Nelson County. It operates and maintains more than 500 miles of water lines and provides an average of 1.25 million gallons of water daily to its customers, Mudd said.
Most of the customers are residential users, but the water district’s biggest individual customers are Maker’s Mark, the Marion Adjustment Center, the Loretto Motherhouse and the schools outside of Lebanon.
How the district is funded
As you might expect, water is the primary revenue source for the water district.
In recent years, the district’s operating revenues have been around $2.5 million, and $2.44 million of that revenue is projected to come from water sales in 2013. Approximately $2 million of that comes from sales to residential customers while around $400,000 is from commercial sales.
The Marion County Water District charges its customers $4.91 per 1,000 gallons of water used. Mudd said the rate is the same for all the district’s customers, whether that customer is a single-family residence or a business, like Maker’s Mark.
The water district also receives fees from the cities of Bradfordsville and Loretto and the Marion County Fiscal Court. In addition to collecting its own water fees, the water district collects sewer fees for Bradfordsville and Loretto and garbage fees for the fiscal court. The county pays the water district a 5 percent fee for collecting the garbage fees. (The county pays the Lebanon Water Company the same rate to collect garbage fees from its customers.)
These fees will account for less than $40,000 in revenue for the district, according to the 2013 budget.
“It’s not a big revenue maker. It’s more of a courtesy,” Mudd said.
Providing this service means water district customers receive just one bill for those various services, and it reduces expenses for the other entities since they don’t have to purchase billing software and pay office personnel to handle it.
“It’s kind of a win-win situation for both parties,” Mudd said.
According to the 2013 budget, the district also anticipates receiving $31,000 from renting property to Time Warner (behind the water district office) and from allowing Bluegrass Cellular to put a cellular antenna on the Loretto water tower. The district receives a small amount (last year it was less than $8,000) in interest from certificates of deposit.
“As a government entity, we are mandated to invest in secure and insured means of revenue,” Mudd said. “Certificates of deposit are basically the only thing that’s insured. We can’t invest in the stock market or anything like that.”
How the district spends its funds
Mudd said the district must maintain a tight budget in order to meet another goal.
“One of my main objectives and the board’s main objectives is to keep our rates as low as possible and still maintain our system,” he said.
That means the district has to watch its expenses as well, and by far, water is the district’s biggest expense.
The Marion County Water District does not operate its own treatment plant. Instead, it purchases water, primarily from the Lebanon Water Company. Mudd said the district also purchases some water from Campbellsville.
Mudd said the Lebanon Water Company charges the Marion County Water District $2.86 per 1,000 gallons, the same rate as the residential customers in the city. For 2013, the Marion County Water District has budgeted $1.4 million to buy water.
The district has budgeted $268,000 for salaries and wages and $92,000 for benefits this year. Most of that money goes toward the district’s seven full-time employees and one part-time employee. Four of the full-time employees (including Mudd) work in the field. The other employees work in the office.
To maintain the more than 500 miles of pipe, the district has budgeted $115,500 for materials.
The district also owns four pick-up trucks, a one-ton service truck, a dump truck and trailer, and a backhoe. It has budgeted $33,000 for transportation expenses this year.
“We try to get five or six years out of our vehicles,” Mudd said. “We try to keep them in rotation so we don’t have to buy two or three vehicles in one year.”
Water loss is another ongoing issue.
“We’re constantly looking for leaks. You can imagine over 500 miles of manes, crossing rivers and creeks and rural country that it’s hard to keep our water loss down,” Mudd said.
Under state regulations, the district is allowed to lose up to 15 percent of water to leakage, annually. Last year, the district lost a little more than 13 percent of water to leaks, according to Mudd.
To reduce leaks (and more importantly breaks), the district does regular maintenance and, when needed, replaces sections of pipe.
One such project is underway this year. The district is replacing approximately five miles of four-inch pipe with newer six-inch pipes in the area from Hwy. 426 to Miller Pike into Raywick on Hazy Downs Road.
Mudd said that four-inch line has been in place since 1974, and it’s been giving them a number of maintenance issues in recent years. The district is also installing fire hydrants along the line.
“That will help somewhat with people’s insurance,” Mudd said.
To complete the upgrade, the district received a $548,180 loan from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority. The district will repay that loan over 30 years.
The district handles smaller maintenance work in house, but larger projects like the upgrade are put out for bids. Mudd said it can take two years from the time they start planning a project until construction actually begins.
“We’re held pretty tight with the agencies that control us,” he said.
Who watches over the district
As the general manager, Mudd oversees the day-to-day operations of the water district. This includes making sure the district pulls samples and tests its water, regular maintenance of equipment, searching for possible leaks.
Larger issues, such as buying vehicles and equipment, must be approved by the district’s five-member board of commissioners, Mudd said. The board includes one commissioner from each magisterial district. The commissioners are paid $125 (before taxes) per meeting.
The commissioners are Barbara May of Bradfordsville Road, Everett Thomas of McElroy Pike, Donnie Browning of St. Mary Road, Jeff Preston of Danville Highway, and Earl Sandusky Jr. of St. Rose Road.
May is the chairwoman. Thomas is the secretary, and Browning is the treasurer.
May said the board’s role is “to provide a service to everybody in the county.” That means providing clean water and good customer service.
The commission meets on the second Tuesday of each month at either 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. at the water district office. (With the recent time change, the board will be meeting at 7:30 p.m. When time falls back, the meetings are held at 7 p.m.)
The water district also submits a copy of its budget to the fiscal court (although the court does not have authority to approve the district’s budget), the Division of Water and the Public Service Commission.
“We’re governed by all the laws and regulations that have to do with Public Service Commissions,” May said.
Mudd added the PSC and the Division of Water mandate what the district has to do through a variety of regulations.
For example, the Division of Water makes sure local water districts meet the standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The district pulls water samples 15 times each month to test for possible contaminants, Mudd said.
To help keep the water clean and uncontaminated, the district wants to turn over at least half of the water in each of the district’s eight storage tanks every day, according to Mudd. That also means monitoring the system every day, including weekends and holidays.
“People think they just turn the faucet on and its real simple, but it’s not. It takes a lot of manpower to make sure it’s there when they turn the faucet on and it’s safe and it’s clean,” he said.
Looking to the future, Mudd said the district and the Lebanon Water Company are looking at the possibility of purchasing additional water from Campbellsville in case more industry and development come to Marion County.
“Right now, we’re fine. We’ve got plenty of water. But we’re looking probably 10, 12, 15 years out,” Mudd said.
And he said the district will continue to look into upgrading its system by replacing lines and installing newer and more efficient pump stations, but they are always aware of how that could affect the district’s customers.
“We try to do this with money that doesn’t affect our customers rates. The Board of Commissioners — that’s our goal, to keep our rates as low as possible,” Mudd said. “Sometimes that’s hard to do with fuel costs and electricity costs. It’s a struggle every day to maintain that.”
For her part, May is grateful that the county has a water district. She remembers hauling water, so she appreciates having running water service throughout the county.
“Water is the cheapest thing that you can ever have,” she said. “That water bill is nothing. When I turn my water on, I thank God we’ve got it.”
The Marion County Water District
The Marion County Water District is one of seven special district’s serving Marion County, as identified by the State Auditor’s Office as part of an effort to increase public awareness of how their money is spent.
The State Auditor set up a website (http://apps.auditor.ky.gov/public/theregistry/cai.html) last fall in an effort to provide the general public with more information about the more than 1,200 special districts that exist statewide.
During the current legislative session, the auditor is also backing legislation to further increase the transparency of these districts.
In the coming months, the Enterprise will be taking a closer looking at the special districts that serve Marion County, how they are funded, and what they do for the community.
Marion County Water District
Office: 1835 Campbellsville Highway
Mailing address: PO Box 528
Lebanon, Ky. 40033
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday