Private partnership may be part of RWR future

Editor's note: This is the final part in a three-part series.

CONYERS - Rockdale County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Middlebrooks said consideration of hiring a private firm to manage the pipes and valves of the county water department is just one piece to the larger puzzle of working to make the public utility more efficient.

It is one of several areas of improvement and assessment Middlebrooks and the five-member management team at Rockdale Water Resources have dealt with in the past year to get the water utility through some recent tough times that included poor billing and collections of accounts and unaccounted water in the system.

Whatever is decided, Middlebrooks said the way the water department is run now will change dramatically in the future.

Hiring a private management firm

A request for proposals, or RFP, should be ready next month to see what kind of interest is out there for managing the collections and distribution system. A private firm, ESG Operations, already manages RWR's sewer service and treatment system. They took over from Operations Management International Inc. in 2005.

Middlebrooks said he can see benefits in hiring a private management firm that could upgrade the system faster and at a lower cost than if the county did the work itself.

"Public/private partnerships are becoming more and more common because of the flexibility a company in the private sector can bring to a project," Middlebrooks said. "We've got an old system, the infrastructure is old and hasn't had any maintenance done in a good many years. That's where we're having many of our problems as we go through this evaluation process."

The price of hiring a management firm is not known until negotiations begin between the county and a potential partner. Middlebrooks said the only stipulation he has now is that whoever is hired must use existing RWR employees.

Talking about the future of the water department, Middlebrooks said much of it hinges on getting some of the utility's problems addressed.

Rate increase

Though a rate increase had been brought up by the Board of Commissioners earlier this year, Middlebrooks said there is no timetable set to consider such a move.

"I don't like reaching up and pulling something out of the air just for the sake of doing an increase," he said. "Before we do a rate increase, we want to do all the due diligence possible to get the system more efficient. It's costing more to treat the water due to increases in fuel, power and chemicals, but we also need to get the unaccounted water in the system taken care of."

Access to more information

Middlebrooks said the county does not try to hide anything from the public concerning RWR's finances. Rather, he blames the utility's aging computer software as being a hindrance to producing quarterly and monthly financial reports.

The county is in the process of replacing the computer system - the same system used by the water department when the city of Conyers sold it to Rockdale County in 1996. The new computer system will tie all RWR's divisions together and, hopefully, make performance reports concerning different areas of operation more easily accessible.

"Once we get that done we can be more open, I guess you can say, with what's going on with the water department instead of manually putting all those numbers together," Middlebrooks said.

"We set a budget every year and work to stay within it, but I personally would like to know how we're doing every month without having to ask the finance department to manually pull the records together on how much they've collected, how much they've paid out and that sort of thing."

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