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Middlebrooks: Water authority not in plans

CONYERS - Every so often, and particularly around election time, the suggestion of creating a strong, and separate, water and sewer authority to run the water department comes up in conversation.

Rockdale County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Middlebrooks said he hears the talk, too, and he believes the current method is best way to run the water utility.

Some would call it control, but Middlebrooks called it accountability. Newton, Henry and Walton counties have their water systems operated by an authority, made up of members appointed by the county and in some instances by cities within those counties.

Aside from making appointments to the authority or owning the water reservoirs, the county governments there have little interaction with the day-to-day operations of the water and sewer departments.

"I think you lose accountability to the public if you do it that way," Middlebrooks said. "That's because the Board of Commissioners is elected, and we are accountable to the public for the rates and operations of the system. I don't believe an authority would be as concerned about the public as we are when it comes time to generate revenue to expand the system."

By definition, Rockdale Water Resources is an enterprise fund and separate from the Rockdale County government. However, the Board of Commissioners operates RWR more as a county department that reports directly to Middlebrooks and the other commissioners.

Critics charge a lot of the current system is flawed because those in charge are influenced by local politics. Rockdale County resident Garvin Haynes has questioned the accounting practices of the water department over the years. He said his concern is that the system cannot be kept in "a sound operational basis" as RWR's bond covenants require if elected officials consider votes for re-election when it comes to setting the water and sewer rates.

"We have, by most accounts, the lowest water bills in metro Atlanta, and that's fine and dandy, but at what cost when the department has 25 percent water loss in the system," he said. "It takes money to run a water department properly and that includes setting, the rates based on that. It's those tough decisions an independent authority can make without any political considerations."

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.