City, utilities under 1 roof; still separate entities

Published 12:03 am Saturday, January 26, 2013

The move is on for the Florala Utilities Board operations, city council members voted Friday.

The group met Friday in a special-called meeting to discuss a “shared services” agreement with the utilities board that will move the board’s day-to-day operations from its current location in the old Alabama Power Building to city hall.

For weeks, the utilities board has discussed the move after an audit revealed nearly 20 findings of poor accounting and personnel practices.

The auditor, Ben Vance, recommended the move to place supervision of the office staff under the city clerk and to hire a supervisor over the board’s field employees.

“After that audit, it was decided that it would be in the best interest for the utility board and the city to join under one roof,” Mayor Robert Williamson said.

Council members commented that they’d like nothing more than to see city services in the same building.

“Everyone that stops me and comments say it’s a wonderful idea,” said Councilwoman Ann Eason.

Councilman Marvin Williford, who also serves as utilities board chairman, said the board “wants to offer serves as cheaply and efficiently as possible.”

“Maybe this will help us save enough so that we don’t have to raise (water and sewer) rates,” he said.

By moving, the board’s savings are estimated at $12,000 a year in utility and building maintenance costs.

Despite being under the same roof, the two entities will remain separate, said Councilwoman Hazel Lee.

“I want it to be clear that the city and the utilities board are separate entities,” Lee said. “We’re going to share services, not become one entity.”

The council agreed to begin the physical renovations needed. The board will cover the necessary costs, Williamson said.

Work will begin as soon as possible.

Previously, the utilities board said they’d like the move completed within six months.

“We always look for the most effective way to serve our citizens,” Williamson said. “Being separate was not being efficient. Now, it will be a win-win for everyone. Residents can pay their bills in one place. The city and the utility board can save money. A win-win.”