Robeline-Marthaville Water System, Inc. held its quarterly Board meeting this past Monday night at the First Baptist Church in Robeline to discuss numerous opportunities for improvement of the System. Two of the five board members were not in attendance. Several members of the System attended the meeting and heard presentations from the USDA; the Louisiana Rural Water Association; the System’s Engineer, Kenneth McManus of McManus Consulting Engineers; the System’s accountant, Nettles Brown of Waskom, Brown & Associates; and Natchitoches Parish President, Rick Nowlin.
The presentations provided that Robeline-Marthaville Water System, which is 38 years old, is in need of critical maintenance to its structure and upgrades to its facilities. The System is a member-owned non-profit organization. The rates charged to customers for water are determined by the Board with assistance from La Rural Water and approved by the USDA. Historically, the USDA (and formerly the La Public Service Commission) limited the rates that could be charged to customers to cover only cash expenses, note payments, required reserves, and a small contingency. There are no funds within the System to cover major acquisitions and/or repairs and maintenance.
Members of the System asked several pointed questions:
1. How did the Board of Directors let the System get into this critical condition (apathy and/or not being informed by the prior system operator);
2. Why is the Board only meeting quarterly when there is a crisis that needs immediate attention;
3. When can the System’s office begin using 21st century technology for payments and customer communications;
4. Why does it take 3-1/2 people in the office to handle the business of 477 customers when Belmont Water System has 935 customers and they have only 1 part time office person; and
5. Is the System Engineer’s recommendation of a $3,000,000 upgrade to correct the System maintenance and facility deficiencies the right decision?
One option that was discussed was the purchase of the Ajax Beulah Water System and connecting the two systems, which would be a first step in correcting the poor water quality that currently exists for the System’s customers. The purchase would cost $600,000 and would be funded via a loan through the USDA.
Other suggestions for improving the System included changing the Board meetings to monthly or semi-monthly to formulate and follow a written plan of action; obtain a second opinion from another qualified engineer (may reduce the cost of project as well as provide a better solution); and/or connect the System to the Belmont Water System thereby bringing 3 systems together to further reduce cost and provide quality water to all of the customers.
The members/customers of the Robeline-Marthaville Water System have taken the first step in asking for accountability and action by the Board. We encourage them to continue to be a positive force to improve the System and the communities they represent.