County paves way for energy efficiency project
By Wesley Gardner
Caldwell County Commissioners on Tuesday paved the way to enter into a $2 million certificate if obligation (CO) with Johnson Control that will implement energy efficient equipment throughout the county.
According to Jennifer Lancaster, senior account executive with Johnson Controls, the savings brought in from reduced energy costs would offset the entire cost of the project over the 15-year term of the CO.
Lancaster noted the project would consist of replacing all lights throughout the county with fluorescent fixtures, replacing 34 air conditioning units and replacing thermostats with digital programable units.
The project would also include water conservation improvements at the county jail, such as replacing toilets, flush valves, shower heads sink sprayers, as well as improvements to the laundry system.
Lancaster also noted the jail plumbing system would have eight isolation valves that will greatly assist maintenance crews and jail staff in the case of plumbing issues.
“When I first started visiting with the judge and maintenance personnel, I was hearing about the flooding events that were occurring at the jail,” said Lancaster. “You had significance water loss and a lot of maintenance and operations costs associated with that.
“Every time you had domestic piping issues that had to be addressed, the water had to be shut down for the whole facility … I know if you talk to anyone who works at the jail, they’re going to be so happy to hear that they don’t have to go off-site to use the restroom for 8 hours, or use a Port-O-Potty, or to have bottles of water brought in for inmates and staff. That’s going to be really nice for them.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Roland touted the project, saying it was one of the best ideas he’d heard since being elected to the court.
“You can lose track of all this stuff,” said Roland. “It doesn’t look like this is a big deal – a little water here, a little water there, the A/C isn’t working exactly correctly – but this is something you can lose a lot of money on and not even realize it.”
County Judge Haden echoed Roland’s sentiment.
“If we don’t do this, we’re going to blow $2 million over 15 years on inefficient utilities,” said Haden.
Lancaster also noted the county had the option to install water control devices in each of the inmate’s cells that would allow jail staff to restrict water usage, though it would come at an additional cost of $329,000 that wouldn’t be completely offset by savings.
Haden said the water control option would help maintenance crews deal with cases of inmates sometimes needlessly overusing water.
“One of the problems we have at the jail and the reason the water control system is so attractive, is that one of the favorite pastimes in the jail is to flush the toilet 25 times and flood the jail cell, or flood the shower,” said Haden. “While it’s a headache for maintenance, it’s not the end of the world, but that is a big, big headache they deal with frequently.”
Commissioners ultimately agreed that it would be better to address the problem now, as opposed to going to down the more costly route of doing it in the future, which would require new bidding processes and contract agreements.
The added $329,000 will mean the county will have to pay roughly $22,000 a year over 15 years, though Lancaster noted at least $8,000 of that would be offset each year by additional savings associated with the restricted water use.
In other business, commissioners discussed the upcoming process for creating the county’s 2020-21 budget.
Haden said beginning on Wednesday, he will start to schedule meetings with elected officials and department heads to discuss their proposed budgets, though he noted it would be difficult to create anything concrete without having a better idea of what tax revenue is going to look like.
“Depending on what our revenues are, we’ll start identifying what we’re going to try to do for raises,” said Haden. “I’m still pretty confident we can take care of the employees and provide the services we provide right now. It’s the large capital expenditures that come out the budget this year that I’m concerned most about at this point.”
Haden noted that while tax revenue for April this year was lower than it was in 2019, it was actually higher than what the county brought in in 2018.
“[Revenues aren’t] as low as, frankly, I was expecting to see,” said Haden. “There’s a little silver lining there.”
Haden said one thing he was trying to avoid was having department heads fill their budgets with items they might not need simply because they’d previously been allotted the money.
“What I don’t want to see happen is, I’ve got it, so I’m going to spend it on something,” said Haden. “What I don’t want people to feel like is, if I don’t hurry up and spend that, I’m not going to get it next year, because that’s not the case, at least for the next couple of years.”
“We’re not trying to take anything away from anybody, we’re just trying to be good stewards.”
Haden ultimately told commissioners that budget discussions would begin in earnest once data on revenue became available.