The Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission’s finance committee talked at a meeting Wednesday about a roughly 30-percent shortage in its inventory at a storage facility at the Academy Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Purchasing Director Pamela Crosby said the facility at the Academy Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is supposed to be stocked with around $1.1 million in equipment and components needed to repair and maintain the water and sewer systems. A warehouse on St. Simons Island should hold $500,000 of the same.
The St. Simons Island inventory looks good, but Crosby said her staff found the inventory in Academy Creek is roughly $300,000 short. Around $100,000 of that is pipe segments, while the rest is a variety of other equipment and components.
She couldn’t peg the reason on a single issue, Crosby explained.
“It’s not just one issue that we’ve got. There’s a multitude of things involved in inventory management. Some of it is the physical controls, some of it is record keeping and the actual financial booking, some of it is data entry,” Crosby said.
It’s likely not due to theft, said Interim Director Andrew Burroughs.
“If there is a difference, it’s almost assuredly pipe and stuff that we’ve put in the ground that just never got booked out of inventory. So it’s not like we lost inventory, it’s that record keeping wasn’t the greatest,” Burroughs said.
“While the news doesn’t sound fantastic on that front, (Crosby) is putting policies in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And moving forward, I think that’s what we need to focus on, is retraining the folks on how to do it.”
Commissioner Robert Duncan added that the utility’s equipment is specialized and likely couldn’t be used for much else other than its intended purpose.
Finance Director John Donaghy said some of the difference could possibly be attributed to the difference between what the utility paid for items in storage and their current prices. It’s possible the staff members responsible for inventory never updated the value of items in storage, he said, compounding the issue.
Looking beyond the financial angle, Commissioner Tripp Stephens asked if the utility has all the material it needs to handle spot repairs.
“During this, are we looking for gaps in our inventory? Are we looking for things we should have for emergencies on-site that we might not?” Stephens asked.
That’s the next step, Crosby said. Utility staff members will also look for obsolete equipment that’s just taking up space.
Crosby said she’d have a firm number in a few weeks, along with a report for commissioners on how it got to where it is and what utility employees are doing to fix it.
The finance committee also discussed proposed changes to its payment plan policy.
When a customer owes more than $100, they can sign up for a payment plan to pay off their debt in installments. Late fees still apply, however, and low-income customers can easily end up in a “hole,” where it will become increasingly difficult to pay off their debt, Burroughs said.
He proposed cutting off late fees if a customer keeps up with their payment plan for six months. The customer would still have to pay off any already-accrued late fees.
“I think it’ll be great to show we’re trying to work with the community, basically,” said Commissioner Cornell Harvey.
Stephens was behind the plan but said he’d prefer to remove the six-month requirement entirely, stopping late fees for anyone who signs up for a payment plan.
The committee also deferred the appointment of an auditor for the current fiscal year to the full utility commission and voted to recommend the full commission remove former executive director Jimmy Junkin’s name from the list of those authorized to sign checks and to add interim director Burroughs.
Earlier in the day, the utility’s facilities committee recommended the commission accept an addition to the sewer system on Harrington Lane and deferred bids for Academy Creek plant improvements.
The utility commission will meet today at 2 p.m. to consider these items, among others, in the JWSC’s office at 1703 Gloucester St. in Brunswick.