After extensive planning and preparation, voter approval of the sale of the City of Bolivar’s water and wastewater systems and assets to Liberty Utilities earlier this month was just the first step in the new partnership between the city and the utility provider.
In the Tuesday, June 23, board of aldermen meeting, Liberty Utilities’ John Donaldson painted a picture in “general, broad strokes” of the days ahead.
Following voter approval — with 62% of voters saying yes to the sale at ballot boxes Tuesday, June 2 — Donaldson said the company’s next step is to alert the Public Service Commission, which must sign off on the sale before it goes into effect.
“We let them know ahead of time and then again after this successful vote that we would become the regulated utility that serves water and sewer in Bolivar,” Donaldson said.
He said Liberty will present documents the city and the company have worked together to prepare, like an asset list, as well as further information, to the commission.
Liberty hopes to have an answer by “late fourth quarter,” he said.
“If you kind of just think toward April of 2021, we would be in a position where the Public Service Commission would give us a yes or a no,” Donaldson said.
He said the company is confident the PSC will accept the sale.
“It really just comes down to some details as they do the diligence on their part to make sure we have rates where they need to be, the assets where appropriate, land, etc.,” Donaldson said.
Alderman Charles Keith asked what happens if the PSC doesn’t approve the sale.
“If they didn’t approve it, then it would still be your utility and you would continue to run it like you did,” he said, “and we would visit with them, probably as a team, on why not.”
He said the steps Liberty and the city have taken to get to this point have put them “in a position where we feel we’ll be very successful.”
The PSC looks out for the public’s best interest, Donaldson said.
“So the public has said, by a very large margin, we want to do this,” he added. “So that speaks a lot to them.”
Donaldson said it comes down to working through the commission’s questions.
Liberty has staff in Jefferson City, including a lead supervisor, to work “side by side” with the city through the process, he said.
“We’ll have as many meetings as needed with you and your staff to make sure that the transition is seamless,” Donaldson added. “ … It’ll be our absolute endeavor to make sure we answer all the questions along the way. As hard as it is — change is just hard — (it’s important) that we make it as easy as possible for the families and the staff that might choose to come with us.”
Donaldson, who said he celebrated his 30th anniversary with Empire and Liberty Utilities this month, said successfully working on this project with the city has been a special moment in his career.
“I will tell you, one of the pinnacles of my 30-year career was each of you unanimously looking back at me, trusting Liberty and my representation enough to vote yes and sign the asset purchase agreement,” he said, adding it was “an absolute honor” to partner with Bolivar’s board.
Bolivar’s board of aldermen voted to approve the contract with Liberty Utilities and sign the asset purchase agreement following a closed special session in November 2019.
Donaldson said the board members worked diligently through “a very complicated situation you are in and found yourself in with your wastewater treatment plant.”
“What a challenge to walk in on your first couple of days and truly come to grips with the situation that was in front of you, and you’ve done a great job,” Donaldson said.
He said the public’s approval at the ballot box “was just a real acknowledgement of their trust in you and the steps you were making for the community.”
Donaldson said Liberty is looking forward to partnering with the city in the days ahead.
“We have a team that’s very excited to address the challenges, to invest the money and to get compliance back where it should be with the wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “To stand beside you as you grow and expand and face the challenges, and we’ll be here with you along the way to provide what we can with water, wastewater and electric.”
Bolivar’s mayor Chris Warwick echoed Donaldson’s hope for the future.
“We look forward to the partnership we’ll be having with Liberty, moving forward for the City of Bolivar,” he said. “I look forward to seeing what the Public Service Commission finalizes, and we’ll move forward to the end.”
City administrator Tracy Slagle said the city has already contacted attorneys working with the Environmental Protection Agency and reached out to contacts in the Department of Natural Resources’ water department to let them know about the sale.
“We won’t close the books on any of the variance processes until we get that confirmation that everything is wrapped up and done,” she said.
She said Bolivar is in a variance review stage with the EPA, which should last as long or longer than it takes for the PSC to approve the sale, so the city isn’t incurring any new costs.
“So we’re kind of, actually, financially in a good place to be running these two options side by side right now,” Slagle said.
Also on the agenda
CARES grant: During her report, Slagle said the city applied for a $106,000 reimbursement grant with the county commission, which is disbursing Polk County’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security funds through an application process.
Slagle also said the Bolivar Municipal Airport is receiving $30,000 from a CARES grant, specifically designed for aviation expenses, through the Missouri Department of Transportation. The funds will be used for operations and maintenance at the airport.
Planning and zoning commission: Warwick appointed Nathan Evans to the planning and zoning commission.
Insurance renewal: The board voted unanimously to renew the city’s insurance with EMC Property and Casualty, agreeing to look at the policy again once the sale of the city’s water and wastewater systems is complete.
Aldermen Ethel Mae Tennis, Steve Skopec, Justin Ballard, Michael Ryan, Steve Sagaser, Thane Kifer, Alexis Neal and Keith were present at the June 23 meeting.
The board’s next meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 14.
Find a recording of the June 23 meeting on the City of Bolivar Facebook page. Also, find the full packet for the meeting online at BolivarMoNews.com.