South Blount County Utility District looks to start construction on a new Customer Service and Operations Center by the end of the year.
Construction on Partnership Parkway in Maryville is expected to be completed by 2021.
To pay for the property purchase and facility construction, SBCUD is refinancing its existing 2009 bonds with 2019 waterworks revenue bonds. Refinancing will allow the district to save an estimated average of $320,000 in interest annually, a Wednesday press release states.
“The substantial savings by the district will be used in many ways to improve the efficiency of district operations and customer service,” the SBCUD release said.
Costs not covered by the bond refinance will come from the utility district’s operational reserves, or fund balance, said Shay Trembley, public relations contact for SBCUD.
Trembley also said because of the refinancing of bonds, SBCUD will not have to alter customer dues to pay for the construction.
“We want to make sure that as we’re growing and improving and (the customers) are seeing all these changes in their service area, that their rates are staying the same,” Trembley said.
According to the press release, the official decision to refinance and prepare for construction happened in a June meeting with county commissioners and utility senior management. Those plans were solidified in August.
Talks about construction of a new facility, however, long have been in the works.
The utility purchased the current Customer Service and Operations Center on West Lamar Alexander Parkway 27 years ago.
“We have recognized for a while that we need a new facility,” Trembley said. “So in our constant effort to be proactively planning for tomorrow and preparing for what is coming down the pipeline, we started a couple years ago just looking towards how we can make this happen.”
Ten to 12 customer service representatives work in the Customer Service and Operations Center, which serves as the hub for customers wanting to walk in to pay their bills or report outages, Trembley said. Also in the facility, customer service representatives process payments, answer phone calls and assist contractors who need site approval.
With the construction of a new facility, SBCUD expects little to no changes for customers, Trembley said.
“With the new facility we hope that it’s easier access,” Trembley said. “We’ll have room. We’ll have space. There will be better parking. You’re not gonna be stressed getting in and out of the building.”
SBCUD, which provides water to about 30% of Blount County — more than 15,000 homes, businesses and schools — covering a distance of 150 square miles, plans on putting notes on utility bills and posting photo updates on its website to inform customers of the project.