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Hatcher questions management, deficit numbers

Why did Roger Hatcher resign from the water and sewer board?

Longtime Cumberland County Water and Sewer Advisory Board member and chairman Dr. Roger Hatcher said he resigned from the board because of the inaccuracy of budget numbers and an incident during the March board of supervisors meeting.

“I have a lot of reasons to be concerned,” Hatcher said. “What precipitated my resignation was a letter, which I had written to the board, explaining, you know, that I was concerned about their situation. And I asked them a series of four or five questions. And, when I showed up for the March meeting, I wasn’t on the agenda. I was told to be there, but when I got there, I was not on the agenda. And that kind of (upset me), I’ll be honest with you.”

Hatcher served on the board “since the very beginning” in 2005. He was chairman for about eight of those years before resigning on March 11.

Hatcher’s resignation came after

County Administrator and Attorney Vivian Seay Giles proposed across-the-board increases in rates for sewer and water users and those on the system.

“It’s a complicated mess. I’m going to tell you what the bottom line is,” Hatcher said. “They’ve got no management there. We’ve asked for a lot of data and a lot of questions, and all we get (is) conflicting information. When they asked me to come up with a balanced budget, they told me there was a $2,000-a-month average deficit in 2005. And they give me the numbers that it was based on. But, we put those numbers into a spreadsheet so that we could analyze them. And the first thing our spreadsheet said was that they had an $5,000 addition error in the expenses. And the actual deficit was $7,000 a month, not $2,000.”

Hatcher said that District Two Supervisor and Board of Supervisor Chairman Lloyd Banks embarrassed and “made a fool” of him during the March meeting. “He was looking for a specific number.”

Banks nor Giles offered any comment on Hatcher’s resignation.

According to Hatcher, the water and sewer budget is complicated by uncollected debt.

“I haven’t yet figured out what the real deficit is and how the hell they got there … I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think anybody knows.”

Hatcher said that he got the impression from Banks “that he just wants to put the entire debt burden on the water users, on the water and sewer users.”

“…It was so damn confusing. We couldn’t figure out what was going on,” Hatcher said of Giles’ proposed increases, which are incorporated into her recommended budget for FY 2016-17.

“The bottom line is that you have a big segment of the population out there, which has been adversely affected, and basically for the good of the county. This is what it boils down to.”

“We have been awaiting a recommendation on rate increases from the water and sewer committee for approximately six months,” said Banks following the March board of supervisors meeting  “To my disappointment, the matter was once again tabled pending their ongoing review. The fund is designed to be covered solely by user fees and it has been running a significant monthly deficit. I will ask the board to vote on increases in April.”

The staff-recommended increases could potentially alleviate the $420,000 loan debt from the water and sewer fund balance owed to the county’s general fund.

In a previous letter to Giles, Hatcher, who was then chairman of the committee, said that the group “could not support the proposed rate increase from you,” citing the potential that the increase would fall disproportionately hard on “fixed-income individuals who make up the minority of the county budget.”

“There is a certain percentage of rate payers who have sewer and water or just sewer or water,” he said in the letter, “who have taps into the water and sewer lines and are not connected to their houses, but they do pay the monthly minimum of $25 each for water and sewer. Disproportionately, these are elderly fixed-income persons living along U.S. Route 60 west of the courthouse area.”

Hatcher also cited in his list of concerns that there was no way to calculate the income just from the numbers in Giles’ proposal.

“The utilities fund, it’s not in the black. It’s not self sustaining at the moment,” Giles said during a previous interview. “It needs to generate additional revenue for just normal operations and repairs.”