LCUB’s Nelson reports bad economic year for utility

Heather Mays - Farragut Press

Lenoir City Utilities Board heard a lengthy rebuttal from general manager Fred Nelson regarding a Knoxville News Sentinel article at its last meeting, Monday, Nov. 17.

“I’ve kept this thing and read over it … it said that ‘management is an area that needs to be improved at L-C-U-B,’” Nelson said.

“That struck me, ’cause I know what management has done for L-C-U-B in the last few years. It’s disappointing to me,” he added.

Nelson then listed the many accomplishments of LCUB management.

“In 2001, we were $38 million in debt; in 2008, we’re $23 million in debt. We cut that by $15 million,” Nelson said.

He also said the utility has had no increase in gas rates since 1993.

LCUB has built two substations, added two transformers and is improving its water and sewer system, following state mandate.

“We’re under a state of Tennessee commissioner’s order … we’re building new sewer plants, upgrading the existing water plant,” Nelson said. The improvements should be completed in 2011.

Nelson also mentioned the recent water and wastewater rate hike, which has caused trouble for large industrial companies like Wampler’s and Elm Hill.

“We had a rate increase. It was terrible; I’ll be the first to say that was the worst thing put on us.

“But we felt that we shifted this around to make it as fair as we could to every customer, be it residential, commercial and industrial,” Nelson said, adding the rates will be re-examined in January.

“I’m proud of the staff at L-C-U-B. … It’s been a bad year, several years now with the economy; it’s been a very bad year with industrial and I hope we can make improvements there,” Nelson said.

LCUB also discussed company employment.

“This is just to let you know what we need as far as employment that’s going to be coming up,” Nelson said.

According to Nelson, LCUB has six employment holes, left empty after former employees went on disability, retired or moved within the company.

One position for an apprentice in the gas, water and sewer department is open, as well as an apprenticeship on a line crew. Two mechanics and two customer service positions need to be filled, in addition to a pre-treatment director.

Nelson said all the jobs but pre-treatment director were union classified, meaning jobs must be posted for at least 15 days and anyone tentatively hired for that position has 15 days to “try it.”

“You see the domino effect, how long it could take to go through this,” Nelson said.

“We’ll look at it and see if we can make any cuts in any of these jobs: if somebody can take on more responsibility and hold off hiring somebody for a while.

“We’re going to look at every angle we can possibly look at,” he added.

The item was for discussion only; no action was taken.