Customers pay more thanks to TN public water utility’s deficit


By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — The Surgoinsville Utility District in northeast Tennessee is now charging customers more money every month for no other reason than the fact it had a deficit, according to a new audit.

The audit shows public utility customers are usually the ones who pay the price when a utility spends more money than it rightfully has.

Officials with the State Comptroller’s Office released the audit late last month.

The district distributes and sells water to almost 1,000 customers, according to its website. The district had $347,698 in long-term outstanding debt in April, according to the audit.

HIGHER RATES: Customers in Surgoinsville are paying the price for the utility district’s deficit problems.

Utility district manager Rita Dykes told Tennessee Watchdog on Monday that district officials have paid off the debt, after rate increases took hold.

Those rate increases are still in effect, Dykes said.

“We went from an $8.50 minimum for 1,000 gallons to $10.63,” Dykes said, adding that likely translates to about $8 extra per month for the average household.

So why did the utility go into debt in the first place?

“We lost one of our large users in our industrial park. That was a big part of it. It was an industrial water user. They use a lot of water. They are still there, but they’ve cut down on their production,” Dykes said, adding the user in question made automobile parts.

Comptrollers identified the utility district as one in a “financially distressed condition.”

Rita Dykes

According to the Comptroller’s website, court officials sentenced former Surgoinsville mayor and county commissioner Hanes Cooper to six years of probation in 2008 for taking more than $35,000 from the district unlawfully.

Dykes did not immediately respond to Tennessee Watchdog’s follow-up message Monday inquiring if Cooper’s reported theft played any part in the district’s deficit problems.

Contact Christopher Butler at

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