Responsibility for the utility system lies ultimately with the city’s governing body. Therefore, city officials need to have at least a basic understanding of utility operations. The governing body has several important roles. It:
- sets policies, procedures, and guidelines for the utility operation;
- hires and maintains a competent, well-trained staff; and
- provides the resources for the staff to carry out the utility’s functions.
Every city utility system should have a policies and procedures manual that contains the utility’s rules and regulations. Employees should be expected to follow the policies and procedures as established by the governing body. This makes the employees’ job much easier as they have clear guidelines to follow when dealing with customers and making daily decisions regarding utility operations. The manual also lets city officials hold employees accountable for those rules. The policies and procedures will need to be updated and modified from time to time as the operations of the utilities and state and federal laws change. Policies should also be set for water and sewer line extensions. These policies should address how new developments will be served and how new lines are to be funded. This helps ensure that extensions are handled in a fair and uniform process.
One of the challenges for management is staffing. Utility managers should have the expertise to oversee the operation and be able to work closely with city officials to help them understand the needs of the system. Utility personnel should be expected to read and interpret new regulations. Training opportunities must be provided so that staff can maintain high levels of operation and maintenance. And, officials should expect the utility management to be accountable for the operation of the water and sewer system. Likewise, management should hold staff members responsible for the work that they do. A wage, salary, and benefit plan should be put in place that is equitable and provides a means to retain competent staff. Utilities can obtain surveys through MTAS, development districts, and other organizations that can help them put together their plan.
City officials are ultimately responsible for the financial situation of the water and sewer system. They must set the rates, borrow the monies, and authorize the budgets. Management staff and officials must work together closely to ensure that resources are provided for the operation, maintenance, and expansion of the system.