SPSA looks past 2018

Published 9:40 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just four years after it nearly suffered a financial implosion, the board of the Southeastern Public Service Authority is considering continuing the organization past its contractual sunset date of 2018.

After a report last month from Suffolk City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn that said the chief administrative officers of the communities were willing at least to talk about it, Executive Director Rowland Taylor got the ball rolling during this month’s meeting Wednesday.

“Four years ago, SPSA was faced with a very bleak future,” Taylor said. “There were many changes ahead.”

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After years of financial mismanagement, the financial house of cards finally fell when the economy began to crumble, he said.

“It was one of those things that when the economy tanked, things started happening,” Taylor said.

But the organization slowly was able to right itself, Taylor said. General Assembly action changed the makeup of the board to include more business people. The organization sold its waste-to-energy plant, restructured its debt and raised the tipping fee that had been kept artificially low for years.

Now, the organization has paid off the vast majority of the debt that once seemed insurmountable. Its revenues exceed expenditures month after month, and employees even received a raise this year. The tipping fee has been reduced to $125 per ton.

“It took a lot of people from all the communities and organizations,” Taylor said.

The SPSA staff now will be able to focus on developing a solution for post-2018 operation, he said.

“This provides an exciting new challenge for SPSA board and the SPSA staff,” he said. “It’s definitely music to 145 people’s ears,” he added, referring to the employees.

He outlined the beginning of the process, including developing a list of items to research and review, selecting partners to provide information and expertise and presenting the information for further review.

“We see this as an evolutionary type of process,” he said.

Among the items needing immediate attention are the landfill, new service agreements with the eight member communities, transfer station ownership and the contract with Wheelabrator, which now owns the waste-to-energy plant.

Marley Woodall Jr., who represents Chesapeake on the board, said he hoped productivity measures also would be addressed. In the past, he said, SPSA management has viewed the communities as “honey pots of money.”

“I think this board has determined that’s not going to happen,” he said.