COMMENTARY: Camden Wyoming Sewer Authority a financial steward

I am reflecting on what I think is a false perception of the public water supply and sewer system of the Camden and Wyoming area. This area has a unique administrative structure which is responsible for this service and its infrastructure: the Camden Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority (CWSWA).

The creation of this authority was, in my opinion, clever in that it is empowered to be operated as a business but with no profit taken out. The customer pays only for the services, nothing to stockholders. Additionally, there is public oversight and multiple levels of accountability.

After two years as a board member who tries to monitor public opinion, I have a sense or “gut feeling” that there is a perception that the CWSWA is hoarding millions of dollars; and it is time to challenge that concept and put the real picture in the spotlight.

I must contest that idea by asking “Why would they do that?” The answer is — there is no reason. With three levels of auditing (by three CPAs), their funds are safe. The CWSWA has a well-planned budget which has been tested by a couple of decades of on-, and under-, street experience. The staff and administration can project future needs because of their combined experience and careful attention to the infrastructure and knowing its limitations.

Currently, the maintenance and expansion needs of the infrastructure are projected to cost over $8 million in the future. The years of experience (over 30 years) that I mentioned also taught the authority to budget for these future needs, and its sense of fiscal responsibility has put us on sound financial footings.

Now, if they were to immediately jump into a faster construction-and-repair program, that money could be spent more quickly by hiring more staff and/or contracting out much of the work; but because both of those options are more costly, we will stagger the projects out over time.

Here is why. If we were to expand the staff and form another team for a short time, that expansion would lead to future layoffs, and both short-term and long-term increased costs, like higher labor wages, workers compensation and unemployment cost. The option of contracting out work that we would normally do in-house is, again, the more costly option.

Therefore, the current plan is to prioritize the work in our plan and take the funds which have been budgeted for these projects and invest them in a laddered strategy, which gives us the best combination of available cash and prudent investment vehicles.

As the projects unfold, like our multimillion-dollar water tank and new well project, we will have the ability to pay as we go and not raise rates or assess our customers.

I hope that the above sheds some useful light on the operation and financial planning strategy of the CWSWA.

Editor’s note: Peter Couming is chairman of the Camden Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority.

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