Earl Gray

Earl Gray

After receiving invoices for recalculations on the city's wastewater usage, Fort Oglethorpe officials recently approved the payment of more than $300,000 for overages accumulated during the previous two years.

Back in May, the city raised its rates to combat penalty charge increases in a new agreement with the city of Chattanooga, Tenn., which handles the treatment of Fort Oglethorpe's wastewater.

The new 15-year agreement includes more expensive penalties for overages, as well as assessments of Fort Oglethorpe's wastewater collection, transmission system, and flow monitoring.

When the agreement was struck, City Manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins informed the City Council that records from Chattanooga showed the city had at least one hour that exceeded the flow rate limit during 31 of the previous 32 months since 2013.

On Oct. 9, Payne-Simpkins stated the city had received bills from Chattanooga after overages of previous years were calculated.

"We have the recalculation invoices, and this is a request to pay the city of Chattanooga in the total amount of $333,553.53," Payne-Simpkins said. "The interjurisdictional agreement provides for periodic revision of user fees for eight of the past 12 years. In two of the past 12 years, 2015-2016, the recalculation requires the city of Fort Oglethorpe to make additional payment to Chattanooga. For 2015 it was just under $40,000, and over $293,000 for 2016."

The council unanimously approved the payment during the Oct. 9 meeting, at which time Mayor Earl Gray addressed some of the concerns he's received from residents.

"I'm glad we're giving you these figures and these numbers, but I get phone calls everyday from concerned citizens, and you just need to know that this council is not sitting up here saying yes to a vote to money that we as a city are going to get," Gray said. "It's just like this over $300,000 that Ms. Simpkins described...the city is not keeping any of it, as a matter of fact, we've had some times where instead of trying to collect it, we've taken it out of our reserve and just paid it."

Gray added that the higher rates and higher penalties are something that are unavoidable.

"This thing with Chattanooga, I'm sorry to say, is only going to get worse," Gray said. "They're under so many mandates from the state, and they're just passing it down. We just want to you to know that the council's not up here passing these things and putting money in this city's pocket. Everything we pass is going straight to Chattanooga, I have to sign that check tomorrow. The city is not raising our water rates and increasing our revenue off water, we're simply trying to stay in compliance. Unfortunately, we're at Chattanooga's mercy. We get it (water) from there and we send it back to them, and we don't have much of a choice. We're not increasing the water bill to put money in this city's pocket, it's not that at all."

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009. He can be reached at The Catoosa County News office at 706-935-2621 and by email at acook@npco.com.