By Fred Woods
Two years ago the Beulah Utilities District was in disarray. The BUD was losing money and, without some drastic changes, faced gradually depletion of its cash reserves. The former board was strongly considering selling Beulah Utilities District to an outside buyer.
The District was not operating well at all. Water losses were averaging 22.6 percent a month on an annual basis with some months much higher. Now, just two years later, water losses are a respectable 9.88 percent monthly and getting better than that.
With help from Beulah’s county commissioner, Robert Ham, a new board was appointed and things began to improve. A transition to local operations and management began in the summer of 2014, and the transfer was completed officially on November 3, 2014.
A District Office of the Beulah Utilities District was established at 5320 Lee Road 270 in a building located next to Fire Station # 1, opening November 3, 2015 and Clearwater Solutions, Inc. was formally hired to manage the daily operations of the district. Houston Black was named manager.
A seamless transition from the previous management operator to Clearwater was accomplished, including meter reading, customer billing, customer service, bookkeeping, and cash management procedures necessary to maintain the financial strength of the District.
The district established a web site to provide information to the public regarding board and committee meetings, agendas, and financial reports.
Two service trucks, back hoe, loader, and utility trailer were purchased as well as other equipment.
According to current board chairman Lamar Sims, the success in reducing water losses is the result of immediate 24/7 response to system leaks, and an incentive program for customers to report leaks promptly. This report and response program should save thousands of dollars per month.
The Board listened to its customers and removed a “system development fee” that was too high, and probably slowed new homes building in the district. Residential building is already expanding in the district service area.
Updating of district policies and procedures has been completed, assisted by public input and a lot of hard work by Houston Black and the board members.
A water purchase agreement with the Opelika Water System was renegotiated to the satisfaction of both parties. Sims expressed special appreciation to OWS general manager Dan Hilyer and Opelika Water Board chair Warner Williams for their advice and assistance.
The 2010 bond debt has recently been refinanced with substantial savings in interest rates and the bond rating has been improved to A+
Significant improvements to the District Water Distribution System have been made and are being made to address water pressure problems common to older water systems.
Current board members, in addition to Chairman Sims, are Shane Franks, Lynda Holt, James Majors and Dan Roberts.
The improvements to the Beulah water system and the support of the Beulah Utilities District board also contributed to improvement of the Beulah Fire District’s fire protection score. Beulah’s national Insurance Service Office (ISO) score was recently lowered from Class 6/9 to Class 4/10, missing a 3/10 score by only four points.
The ISO rating is an indicator of the quality of fire service in an area, and it is also a major factor used by most insurance companies to determine home and business owner insurance rates. So many Beulah residents will see savings on their insurance bills. The amount will vary according to the company.
In addition to recognizing the contributions of the BUD board and his own firemen, Beulah Fire Chief Jacob Geiger said,”Our entire staff is dedicated to the mission of providing excellent emergency services, and much of the criteria for this ISO rating is directly related to the hard work and dedication of our full-time and volunteer firefighters to daily training, quick and efficient response times, and provision of the best possible service to the citizens of the Beulah Fire District.”