Fighting the ‘Halls-Powell tax’

Sandra ClarkFeature, Halls, Powell

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs will convene an evening, public meeting with officials from Hallsdale-Powell Utility District to discuss current and future rates.

A roomful of people came to the Powell Library on Tuesday to complain about their HPUD bill. The district recently raised rates for water by three percent and for sewer by six percent.

The mayor explained that he, too, pays a Hallsdale Powell bill every month, and sometimes he doesn’t understand it.

It was Jacobs’ first monthly meeting with residents. He spoke first with those with specific concerns. Then he opened the meeting for discussion of HPUD bills.

Complaints ranged from charges of wasteful spending by the state-regulated district to concerns about meter reading and harmful chemicals. HPUD is governed by a three-member board of directors: Kevin Julian, Halls High teacher and assistant football coach at Webb School of Knoxville; Todd Cook, director of pretrial release for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office; and Bob Crye, retired TVA engineer.

Russ Rymer, vice president of Madison Insurance Group, was a leading critic. He suggested a bigger board of directors, elected by subscribers. He speculated that HPUD rates will double in the next 10 years. He called the rates “the Halls-Powell tax,” and said they hurt economic development. “We need to set a finish line (on rate increases).”

Another customer said it doesn’t matter how much her family conserves. The bill continues to rise, even when they’ve been on a two-week vacation. “Do they even read the meter?”

Laura Bailey said, “My dad (the late Allan Gill) started HPUD in the 1950s for the people. If he could see it now, it would break his heart.”

Jacobs had been briefed. “I’m not trying to throw them under the bus or defend them,” he said. “My understanding is the district went for years with low rates and no improvements and now that’s caught up with them.” The district built an $8 million storage facility near Brickey-McCloud School to alleviate sewer system overflows during heavy rains, “as they should,” said Jacobs.

His staff collected names and email addresses of those who want to be notified of the upcoming meeting. Jacobs has limited control over the utility districts. He appoints board members from a list of three nominations submitted by the board.

Former Mayor Tim Burchett replaced two of three board members during his eight-year term. Only Julian is a holdover.

Steven Goodpaster and Justin Bailey met with Jacobs initially to discuss Enhance Powell projects. And Laura Bailey ended the meeting by thanking Jacobs for installing an accessible power outlet for the Christmas tree at Powell Station Park. She invited Jacobs to attend the lighting this coming Saturday (12/1) following the Lions Club Christmas Parade.

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