Letter to the Editor: PUA

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Parish Utilities of Ascension has demonstrated its inability to operate its west bank water plant since the parish acquired Peoples Water Company in September of 2016. Since the Parish Council’s Utilities Committee seems unwilling to hold PUA accountable (Chairman Randy Clouatre cancelled the meeting scheduled for tonight) let’s review the events leading up to the purchase and subsequent mismanagement by PUA.

On August 27, 2015 (then) Chairman Benny Johnson included Acquisition of Peoples Water Company among Utilities’ meeting agenda items.

I think it’s a good deal,” opined former Parish President Tommy Martinez who noted that Ascension Consolidated Utilities District #1 is currently losing money. “There’s no way two water companies can operate there and either one be successful.”

ACUD #1 is the parish-owned and operated entity already losing money in the west bank water business.

Is ACUD #1 still losing money? Can Ascension Parish afford two failing water companies?

While President Kenny Matassa’s administration ignores the Council’s feeble questions, or presents bogus information, we all know PUA (formerly Peoples Water) is bleeding tens of thousands of dollars every month. It was not supposed to be this way.

Initially authorizing Martinez to spend $5,000,000, the Council upped the ante to $5.9 million based on projections by the parish’s accountant.

At the same August 27, 2015 Utilities meeting Faulk & Winkler projected $612,000 annual debt service to pay for needed system improvements, still predicting a $525,940 positive cash flow. Plus, increased water pressure was supposed to improve Donaldsonville’s fire rating, yielding reduced insurance rates.

Those projections relied upon a 33 percent rate increase which has not been charged.

According to Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson (acting as Interim Utilities Director) and

Infrastructure Division Director William Daniel we do not even know how many customers the utility has. Worse yet, they don’t know how many end users are not being billed. Taking the administration at its word, a shaky proposition at best, how did our auditors calculate the annual profit? How did Faulk & Winkler know the costs of necessary upgrades?

Hartman Engineers, it was recently revealed, did a study which never came before Utilities Committee, nor the parish council. It has never been made publicly available, nor publicly discussed. Why?

What is the cost of the upgrades recommended by Hartmann? What is the scope of work? Why is William Daniel (as he himself has stated) working on a capital upgrade plan for PUA (formerly Peoples Water) when Hartman Engineering already ran the numbers? When are we as a parish going to stop throwing away money on studies that get put on a shelf to collect dust?

How much money was paid to ignore Faulk & Winkler and Hartman Engineering?

Three years after Hartman’s surreptitious study, and still, we have no clue how much water is being produced, lost to wastage, being given away, billed but not collected, etc. This administration has no idea what it costs to produce a gallon of potable water. If the viability of this purchase was tied to a rate increase I must question the parish council’s judgment.

We, THE PEOPLE, have been misled from the beginning and lied to continuously since Matassa‘s administration took over this already failing utility. And now it seems we, THE TAXPAYERS, will pay the price for the Council’s folly.

Jeff Pettit

Gonzales, La.

January 9