Statement from South Fork Utility says “mistakes were made” leading up to Comptroller review
South Fork Utility District manager Jim Graham says all findings in a Tennessee Comptroller’s report of conflicts of interest with spending and other violations are being addressed.
Graham noted in a statement provided to Bristol Broadcasting there was no criminal intent in changes made to operations and initial problems were due to a third-party company that managed the district and was then terminated.
“Our board stands behind our decisions to improve the utility district and its service to our customers,” Graham said closing out the statement.
He also noted recent utility service increases were made after improvements to aging distribution lines and other antiquated portions were replaced.
Here is the statement in its entirety:
(Bristol, TN) – South Fork Utility District Commissioner Jim Graham responded today to a State Comptroller’s report on the practices of the Utility District.
“I’ve worked tirelessly to address deficiencies within our district since the merger of the Holston Utility District (HUB) and the South Bristol-Weaver Pike Utility District (SBWPUD),” said Graham. “Mistakes in documentation of our transactions were made and every one of the findings within the report are being addressed. I am confident that our operations will follow applicable laws and procedures. There was no criminal intent in our dealings. Instead, mistakes were made to expediently rebuild district services to better serve our customers, with an antiquated and inefficient infrastructure that was losing 50 percent of its water because of leaks in the system.”
When Graham became a commissioner, the district contracted with a third-party company who managed the district’s operations as well as other small utility districts in Sullivan County. Inefficiencies in their management saw Graham and fellow commissioners terminate the contract. The district purchased new software to provide accurate billing to its customers, conducted a third-party audit of the contractor’s documentation, hired new employees for administrative duties and begin the modernization process.
The district hired an interim manager on a contractual basis who became a full-time salaried manager in April 2020. Gary Smith has an independent construction company with expertise in utility infrastructure. He has helped our district modernize our infrastructure, improving service to our customers and operational efficiencies. For example, new water lines were replaced that had been in the ground for 60 years, three large pumps were replaced, new remotely monitored water meters were installed to reduce labor costs and improve accuracy, and new telemetry equipment is being installed in storage tanks, assuring proper pressure levels in the district’s lines.
These multiple improvements required the district to increase rates to its customers by five percent to $23.00 per month, including tax, and $9.45 for 1,000 gallons of water used. “We have commissioned a rate study of regional water districts to assure that South Fork customers are paying rates commensurate to nearby systems,” Graham said.
“Any deficiencies found in the Comptrollers Report are being addressed, and there was nothing but the desired hope of making the district an efficient, good value opportunity for pure and plentiful water for our customers, our only desire,” said Graham. “I will work to assure continued, plentiful water for our customers and work with the State of Tennessee to assure that we comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the future to eliminate concerns and assure that we will continue to be a great asset for providing plentiful, clean water at a good value. Our board stand behind our decisions to improve the utility district and its service to our customers.”
(IMAGE: Tennessee Comptroller’s Office)