Chelsea resolves to purchase sewer system

CHELSEA – Chelsea officials passed a resolution to move forward on its plans to purchase the sewer system that serves residents from Shelby Ridge Utility Systems and SouthWest Water Company during a city council meeting on the evening of Tuesday, July 10.

During an announcement from the city in June, Mayor Tony Picklesimer said Chelsea residents and businesses have had to pay excessively high sewage rates, which have hindered the city’s growth.

Council member Scott Weygand said he is “fully behind” the resolution, and said he has personally been negatively affected by Wastewater Systems.

“In 2009, when I was building my building, I had a restaurant that was interested in coming in. It was a pizza and wings place that, at the beginning, was going to be about 64 seats,” Weygand said. “The (impact fee) was an additional $56,000 on top of the tap fee that I had already paid. That stopped the deal from happening.”

During the previous week, Shelby Ridge sent a mailer to residents stating that it did not intend to sell the sewer system. The mailer, entitled “Why The Mayor Isn’t Telling You The Truth About the Wastewater System,” claimed that Picklesimer made multiple false statements during his announcement of the city’s intent to purchase the system in June.

“The wastewater system is not for sale. That means Chelsea’s mayor and city council will have to condemn it in order to take it away from the system’s lawful owner, with all of the legal costs and years of delay that entails,” the mailer read. “The fact that 40 (percent) of the system’s customers are outside the city of Chelsea makes it an even thornier legal issue that would benefit no one, except perhaps a few lawyers.”

The mailer stated that Shelby Ridge charges reservation fees instead of tap or impact fees, that multiple businesses have come to Chelsea since 2010, that a $20 million figure “grossly understates” the sewer system’s value.

It also stated that the sewer system’s condemnation would result in higher rates and crippling debt and referred to Picklesimer’s assertion that residents would eventually pay over $2,100 in monthly service fees as outlandish.

Picklesimer referred to the mailer as a personal attack, and maintained that the statements he made during the announcement were correct. Picklesimer cited comparisons with sewer rates in neighboring cities and his correspondence with Shelby Ridge in his arguments against what was written in the mailer.

The resolution was passed unanimously, and was met with applause from residents who were in attendance at the meeting.

During the meeting’s public forum, SouthWest Water Managing Director Craig Sorensen said they are not impeding economic growth, but are active in promoting local economic growth. Sorensen reiterated that the sewer system is not for sale, and referred to the city’s move to purchase it as a “government takeover.”

“Permit me to correct the record on the claim that our company is the reason Chelsea does not have the commercial growth it wants,” Sorensen said.

Shelby Ridge Attorney Joe Conner, of Baker Donelson, said it is not necessary to condemn the system. Conner said the system is “well-run” and has been recognized by the state under Shelby Ridge.

Conner called for a meeting between Shelby Ridge and the city hold negotiations before the city takes further action.

“It is my hope that we’re able to, with this resolution, actually sit down and talk. If there are any council members that would like to talk to us individually, we’d be glad to do that,” Conner said.

Several residents, including Connie Gilliland, who wrote an online petition to combat the rising sewer rates in 2016, commended the city on its decision.

“Despite my husband working 55 hours a week, we will have to sell our home if something doesn’t happen. I pray that Chelsea is successful in obtaining the sewer system. I do not know if the rates will ever go down, but I know they will not go up without everyone interested knowing the reason,” Gilliland said.

In other council news, the city:

–Recognized Chelsea resident and competitive swimmer Brandy Nivens.

–Reported that a caution light will be added to the intersection of Shelby County 36 and Shelby County 39.

–Authorized a liquor license for the Johnny Ray’s on Old Highway 280.

–Authorized acceptance of the lowest bid for the Rich Drive project.

–Annexed 3.17 acres of property on Dorough Road, owned by Steve and Kimberli Clinkscales.

–Bills were paid.