Hobson City pays off large water debt

Hobson City has paid off about five years’ worth of debt to the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board in 12 months — freeing up money to improve the town’s aging, leaky water system that had caused much of the debt in the first place.

Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCrory said the town paid a final $130 bill this month to Anniston, its water supplier, capping off an approximately $114,000 debt that had been a burden on the town for years. The debt got so bad that the town had to close its water department and turn over meter reading and bill collection to Anniston.

“This is one of the biggest accomplishments … it’s got me elated … I’m really happy about it,” said Councilwoman Deneva Barnes.

The Town Council began the process of tackling the large debt in December 2009, when it decided to raise water and sewer rates.

“We had not had rate increases in years,” McCrory said. “We needed to increase rates so we wouldn’t keep going in the hole.”

Also in 2010, the town obtained grant money to repair some of the water leaks in the community.

McCrory said the speed with which the town paid off its debt came as a surprise.

“I thought it would probably take a couple of years at most,” she said. “But it didn’t.”

However, the fast payment was not a surprise to Rodney Owens, assistant general manager for the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board.

“The city, mayor and council have worked diligently to clear up the matter,” he said.

Now with the debt removed, the town can turn its attention toward fully upgrading and repairing its leaky water lines.

“We still have water loss that is around 50 percent,” McCrory said of the water system that last year was losing around 86 percent of its supply through leaks.

McCrory said the town is in talks with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get a loan that would pay for the rest of the repairs needed for the water system.

“We hope to get that sometime this year,” she said. “The money that we were using to pay off the debt would go to help pay off that loan.”

McCrory noted that she did not think it was necessary to use the freed-up revenue to restart the town’s defunct water department.

“We’re not in a position to do that right now,” she said. “We don’t have the skills or the employees with the training. It’s better for us to just outsource to Anniston.”

McCrory said erasing the debt would not have been possible without the cooperation of the community.

“This is something we did in the community,” she said. “When we raised rates, the community as a whole did not complain. And for the most part, people continued to pay … that’s what made this happen.”