Your water system is sound and strong

As Chairman of the Commission of Public Works of the City of Spartanburg I am proud of what our Commission has accomplished the last eight years I have had the honor of serving alongside my fellow commissioners. I am also proud of the incredible work done each day by the employees of Spartanburg Water System to ensure that our more than 200,000 customers experience clean, safe water as soon as they turn on the tap.

Recently, however, there has been a constant stream of attacks against the management of our water system and asserted “facts” about our financial state in the media and across our community.

Once you wade through the noise though, it is apparent that those sharing this information have chosen to ignore any semblance of facts, and instead throw out as many inaccuracies as possible and see what sticks — hoping that our community will simply choose to take their statements at face value.

I am here to share with you that your water system is in fact sound, strong and committed to water quality and fiscal responsibility. You don’t need to just take my word for it either. Two, independent bond rating institutions — Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s Investor Service — both recently upgraded our bond ratings to AA and Aa2 respectively. Bond ratings are a key measure of a public utility’s strength of financial management.

This financial strength has helped us to embark on some essential projects during the last 10 years to deal with aging infrastructure, update our water treatment facility and address water quality challenges.

The truth is that Spartanburg Water System became a public entity under the ownership of the citizens of the City of Spartanburg in 1908, when they also established the CPW to manage and maintain their water system. This is 111 years of history, innovation and assuredly changes that come with meeting the needs of an expanding population, changing industry needs, and the numerous challenges we now face to maintain water quality.

To meet these challenges head on and to manage the more than 1,300 miles of water pipeline that make up the backbone of our system (12 percent of which is more than 100 years old), SWS used bonds to finance a $40.2 million upgrade to our Simms Water Treatment Plant, $15 million for distribution improvements and $41.8 million for water quality improvements.

The current total bond debt of $166.4 million has been shared by many to show a “mismanagement” of funds and compared to other, unnamed water systems in an unfair comparison. The fact is that these bonds reflect spending that has substantially occurred during the past 10 years and includes projects still in the works at this time. Additionally, with the adept and knowledgeable handling of our finances by the Spartanburg Water CFO, our debt is trending down and no new bond debt is planned for the next five years.

One other key argument that has been made is the “preferred treatment” of Spartanburg City residents and a “75 percent” increase in water service and tap fees for customers.

As owners of the water system, City residents do get a preferred rate, because those outside the City limits are considered customers. This model not only allows us to keep all water rates low and comparable to other similarly sized utilities, it also provides for participation by SWS in the Economic Participation Agreement with the City of Spartanburg. This more than $1 million payment increases each year based on Consumer Price Index (CPI), and helps provide funds for important economic development projects inside the City of Spartanburg.

I invite you to visit the Spartanburg Water website to get a better picture of the actual water rates. Taking 10 years of data to arrive at a large number is good politics, but the truth of the matter is that in using comparative data, during the last five years water volume rates have only increased 5.2 percent, or about 1 percent each year.

Spartanburg City and County residents are truly blessed to have access to a water system that is not only award-winning, but forward-thinking. Our area is growing and changing, and for 111 years we have taken for granted that the water we use for recreation, to drink and bathe our children is safe and clean.

SWS and the Commission of Public Works is committed to water quality, and we want you to know our commitment extends to sharing the facts about our performance and management of your most important asset.

John Montgomery is chairman of the Commission of Public Works of the City of Spartanburg.