Former Chair: Rein in Wasa, Cut Generous Perks

Peachtree City’s sewer system socks away too much money, ignores opportunities for rate reductions for rate payers in favor of too-generous employee pay and benefits and fails to plan adequately for future maintenance and expansion needs, a former chairman of the autonomous authority charges in a letter to the editor.

WASA had no comment by press time.

Peachtree City resident and former Peachtree City Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) board member Terry Garlock this week sent The Citizen a blistering letter to the editor questioning WASA’s various practices, past and present.

It follows a letter from the current chairman last week, who criticized “provincial” attitudes on City Council against expanding the sewer service outside the city limits. Today, Garlock said he is in favor of bringing WASA under city management. The authority is run by a council-appointed five-member board of volunteers who serve five-year terms.

“I never wanted to publicly disturb this hornet’s nest, but now I feel a duty,” Garlock said in his opening. “The WASA issue for me has been like a sleeping dog, best left alone to have peace in my life. Lately it turned into a hornet’s nest that needed a swift kick.”

Provide the kick he did, while simultaneously bringing WASA to task on a multitude of issues.

For its part, WASA General Manager Stephen Hogan was forwarded a number of questions pertaining to Garlock’s letter. The Citizen by press time had not received his responses.

Noting his time on the WASA board, from early 2013 to mid-2014 and including several months as chairman, Garlock said that, “From the start, I asked questions that upset the comfort zone of board members, General Manager Stephen Hogan and WASA employees, who lined the walls at every board meeting, watching closely over their own interest.”

Garlock, dating from his time on the board, surfaced questions such as why there was no capital improvement plan for maintenance and plant expansion, why there was no board interest in considering rate reductions though WASA had millions in the bank beyond debt service and budgeted projects and why the board would not consider smoothing out the artificial billing increase during summer months.

On the matter of pay for WASA employees, one of the issues Garlock raised dealt with longevity pay, a bonus paid in early December, which he maintained is out of line.

“In December 2012, new employees received longevity pay of $250 while the average for all employees was nearly $2,400 each and the highest individual amount was over $6,200, with amounts increasing annually as salaries rise and the number of years of employment accumulate,” Garlock said of the practice that began in 2001. “I felt this longevity pay policy was out of line, and I was the detested guy who led the effort to kill it. As I told employees in a meeting on the topic, in a public organization bonuses should be rare, modest and for performance above and beyond expectations, and this longevity pay policy was none of these things.”

Garlock said the board decided in late 2013 to “cut it in half.” He said he was subsequently told by board member John Dufresne that the WASA board put longevity pay back in place after Garlock left the board.

Though he did not note the reason, Garlock described why he resigned the board in 2014.

“In early 2014 I was elected Chairman despite my request not to be in that position,” Garlock said. “In the middle of that year a minor but distasteful incident prompted me to conclude I did not then and would never be able to trust anything GM Hogan told me. With my gag reflex stretched beyond its limit, I abruptly resigned, fully disclosing to the board and GM Hogan my reasons. I returned to life where the sky is blue.”

Bringing his comments to the current day, Garlock referenced the WASA bonds guaranteed by the city.

“When the bonds to finance WASA were negotiated, to obtain the desired lower rate of interest, bondholders required that the city guarantee WASA’s repayment of the bonds. In exchange for that city guarantee, the city required that its approval would be necessary before WASA could offer sewer services outside the city. That same guarantee and condition was part of bond refunding in subsequent years,” said Garlock. “Last time I looked, the bonds don’t pay off until 2027.”

Garlock in the letter surfaced a number of questions that relate to WASA’s recently stated preference to sell sewer capacity outside city limits.

“Before serving new customers outside the city, shouldn’t WASA consider expanding service to city residents still on a septic system without charging excessive connection fees?” Garlock asked. “In any case of expansion to serve customers outside the city, what are the risks of uncontrollable development expansion? Personally, I would only trust an analysis of that risk performed by the city.”

If questions like those, and others he posed, were answered satisfactorily, “serving a customer outside the city could be beneficial because the infrastructure, equipment and personnel at the wastewater treatment plant already exist, and with little added electric power and chemicals, the lion’s share of new revenue should fall to the bottom line. That would be good for WASA,” Garlock said. “But such questions have not been satisfactorily answered.”

Garlock said he was once opposed to the idea of deconstructing WASA and bringing those operations to the city.

“Because the city applies a great deal of effort planning for developments and what happens on city borders, and because a sewer line with available capacity plays a vital role in adjacent development density, and because of the history of strife between WASA and the city, I would now vote in a heartbeat to bring WASA under city management. Of course, doing so is a steep climb up the legislative mountain,” he said.

Garlock concluded the letter by noting a number of fine, hard-working people employed by WASA and complementing board members Phil Mahler and Bob Grove.