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UMRB dismisses DUD ratepayer petition
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Randy Rhody testified on behalf of DUD ratepayers at a Utility Management Review Board hearing Thursday.
Nearly 12 hours of testimony and deliberation at the DeKalb county complex ended in the dismissal of a petition for a water-rate review signed by DeKalb Utility District ratepayers Thursday.The Tennessee Utility Management Review Board voted unanimously Thursday to dismiss the petition, whose proponents hoped would help stop DUD plans to build their own water treatment plant.Among the many witnesses called to testify were Smithville Secretary Treasurer Hunter Hendrixson, DUD Manager Jon Foutch, DUD board member Hugh Washer, DUD ratepayer Randy Rhody, DUD engineer Buddy Koonce, the City of Smithville engineer J.R. Wauford and CPA Tom Janney.City Attorney Vester Parsley represented the City of Smithville alongside Nashville attorney and former Metro Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell and Jason Holleman of Nashville.Purcell and Holleman represented DUD customers opposing the plant.The DUD was represented by local attorney Keith Blair and Nashville attorney Dewey Branstetter, Jr.The UMRB consists of Ann Butterworth, Chair; Tom Moss, Vice-Chair; Donnie Leggett, Charlie Anderson, Loyal Featherstone, Donald Stafford, Troy Roach, Jason West, and Rebecca Hunter, and an adminstrative law judge oversaw the hearing.In rendering the decision, board members said the petitioners had failed to prove that DUD rates and services were unreasonable.During deliberations, some members of the board shared that while they sympathized with the City of Smithville’s precarious position if they lose DUD as a customer, the city’s loss was part of doing business.“If I lose a big customer at my gas company,” one of the board members admonished, “I can’t call a hearing and try to reverse their decision. It’s just one of those things that happen.“I do not believe that the petitioners presented a case for water rates,” he said.“They presented a case for not wanting Smithville to lose DeKalb Utility District as a customer. What the petitioner proved was that Smithville didn't want to lose a customer, not that the rates were improper.”DUD has purchased water from the City of Smithville since 1966.The City of Smithville hired a public relations firm last April to organize a movement against the DUD plan.A petition was signed by more than 10 percent of DUD ratepayers, which was the trigger for the UMRB review of the utility’s rates.Some UMRB members expressed the opinion that since The Calvert Street Group, the firm the city hired, was greatly responsible for the petition drive, and the city footed the bill, Citizens Against the DUD, the organization who filed the petition, was a creation of the City of Smithville.“I believe there was major bias demonstrated throughout this hearing today where the public relations firm actually drummed up the people to sign the petition and even offered them prizes if they got a lot of people signed up,” one of the UMRB board members opined.In Purcell’s opening remarks, he told the board that the citizens of DeKalb county did not want a new water plant.“ The citizens of DeKalb County, many of whom have gathered and are represented here today, the petitioners, these ratepayers are here to ask you to stop this,” Purcell said.“Stop the construction of an unnecessary plant that will compel a mass expenditure of money, but more particularly and directly to stop the resulting significant increase in the rates that will be borne by these people forever, at a time when everyone is asked for more efficiency in government, for more cooperative and collaborative government action.“The ratepayers have come as respectfully as they know how to the only place, the only people who can make this happen.