Originally created 10/16/00

Utilities expansion advances



Less than half of the 20 or so offices being leased by the city are furnished and occupied. And several freshly-painted rooms have desks but don't yet have employees to sit behind them.

But they will soon.

"When we have those spaces filled, we'll have the staff that we need," said Max Hicks, director of the Utilities Department.

On Tuesday, the Augusta Commission is set to approve a reorganization of the Utilities Department, which will give the go-ahead for officials to begin advertising to fill the vacant offices with four new assistant directors.

The cost of approving the reorganization is $150,000, which will pay for the salaries of the three newly-created positions.

On a larger scale, the reorganization will be a first step in expanding the Utilities Department's staff to meet the increased workload that accompanies a $98 million water and sewerage bond issue approved last month. The bonds' revenues are set to be used in the next three years to upgrade the county's water treatment facilities, wastewater conveyance systems, wells and water lines.

In the next two to five months, at least 20 additional people will be added to the Utilities Department's engineering and inspection divisions.

"From a customer relations standpoint, I think that we will be able to give a quicker and a better response," Mr. Hicks said. "In our operations with customers, developers and also in our interactions with other departments within the city, we'll have people more directly assigned to interact."

Under the existing chain of command in the Utilities Department, Mr. Hicks heads up operations and directly supervises an assistant director. The assistant director is charged with overseeing six different departments, but the position has been vacant since April.

Under the new chain of command, however, three new assistant director positions will be added. Each assistant director will oversee a separate division: water production, engineering and construction, finance and administration and wastewater treatment.

"It really did seem as if we needed to have an additional level of management there," Mr. Hicks said. "We've spent the last several years developing the funding we needed for an expansion, but 2001 is the first time we will have pulled together everything we knew we needed."

About 13 Utilities Department employees moved to the Bay Street building at the beginning of October.

And by early next year, officials expect the first floor of the four-story building near Augusta's riverwalk to be bustling with activity as eight new engineers and six new inspectors also will be added to help meet the workload that accompanies millions of dollars worth of improvements to the county's water and sewer operations.

The city will advertise locally for some positions and regionally and nationally for others, City Administrator Randy Oliver said.

Larry Scott, client services manager for the water business group of CH2MHill, the consulting group hired to study and manage the county's water and wastewater capital improvement program, said the expansion is one that's long overdue.

"As the utilities department is initiating these new improvements and adding new facilities, there's a need to have the appropriate support personnel," Mr. Scott said.

Included in the list of projects to be funded by the bond are:

Upgrades to the Highland Avenue water treatment plant

Construction of a 16-inch water line and elevated tank on Tobacco Road and a central connector at River Watch Parkway and Claussen Road

The initial planning and design of a new surface water treatment plant to be located on the Savannah River

Several new wells and a new water treatment plant

Improvements to wastewater collection and conveyance systems, including pipes on Butler and Rae's creeks and reduced external flow on Rocky and Spirit creeks.

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.


Bill payment

Utilities officials will not be able to accept water payments at the downtown office, but customers can continue to pay their bills at the department's old building, located at 2760 Peach Orchard Road, and the county municipal building at 530 Greene St.