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Searcy Water Utilities
The Early Days
Although many details are unknown about the beginnings of Searcy’s water system, the first known system began in 1896 when the Searcy City Council granted an exclusive franchise to Searcy Manufacturing Company to build and maintain a waterworks system. The original system included a well located in the southeast section of town and a pipe was laid to the center of town. A few years later in 1899 the size of the system was increased when several citizens called for the establishment of an improvement district known as the Searcy Electric Light, Sewer and Waterworks Improvement District No. 1. This district was formed in order to facilitate and increase the utility services in Searcy. At this time pumps, pipes, a stand pipe, and well hydrants were added.
Mr. W. R. Steward was the first water superintendent. He came to Searcy in 1910 and oversaw many years of growth and improvement to the water system. He remained with the water utility until he retired in 1965. The first water commissioners were E.A. Robbins, Sr., J. F. Headlee, and Henry Patterson.
Water System for Sale
One of the most important improvements to the water system came in 1929, but for this to happen a tough decision would have to be made. Earlier in 1925 the water commissioners came to realize that more water was needed to supply the growing town. The commission authorized the drilling of six additional wells. When the wells failed to meet the growing demand, further action had to be taken. Engineers were hired to study the feasibility of building a water treatment plant. The ambitious project was estimated to cost about a hundred thousand dollars. The citizens were given a choice through two petitions. One petition was to sell the water company for fifteen thousand dollars with the expectation that the buyer would improve the water system. The other petition was to keep the water system and try to do the improvements to the water system using a tax increase. The petition favored the selling of the water system. The decision drug on for another year and when a second petition was presented to the citizens, the results were the same, to sell the water system.
Movie Stars and Water Lines
The decision to sell the water company led to one of the most interesting periods in the utility’s history. The buyer of the Searcy Water Company was none other than Conn Grable, father of the well-known actress, Betty Grable. Mr. Grable’s company purchased the utility with a 50 year franchise with the understanding that the system would be improved by building a water plant and other infrastructure as designed and specified by the Engineers. Construction began in 1928 to lay pipes from Searcy to near Little Red River at the current site of the Water Treatment Facility. A filter plant was constructed along with a river intake structure. The original rock intake structure still stands today. The construction was completed by The American Water Softener Company of Philadelphia in 1929. The system at the time was considered to be one of the finest in the country, capable of serving as many as 30,000 people. This was nearly ten times the population in 1929 and was expected to meet the demands of the growing community for many years. The company was incorporated in 1928 as Searcy Water Company, Inc. Mr. Harry Neely of Searcy served as president, Conn Grable served as vice president, and Mrs. M. J. Lawerenson served as secretary and treasurer. Between 1940 and 1942 the company was purchased from the Grables by W. R. (Riser) Steward, Tom Watkins, and Judge Neely. From 1940 to 1949 the company was known as White County Water Company. During this time the utility continued to grow and began to sell water to surrounding communities.
The sewerage system; however, was not as well off. “The sewer system, at the time, consisted of a large septic tank located in the southeastern part of town. The city Health Officer, Dr. J. W. Hassell, pointed out that it did not meet state requirements and presented a real threat to the health of Searcians. Plans were begun to build a better sewer system. In February of 1934, Searcy received fifty-five thousand dollars to build a new sewerage system in the northeastern section of town on the west side of Gin Creek in what is now Sunnyhill addition. The Federal Compress Company bought the old septic system site. (Searcy, Arkansas A Frontier Town Grows Up With America, Raymond Lee Muncy, 1976)
Financial & Legal Woes
By the late 1940’s growth had once again caught up with the water system. “Searcy’s fire insurance rates were soaring and threatened to go higher because of an insufficient water supply. The stockholders who owned the White County Water Company were unable financially to increase its capacity, so an attempt was made by the city of Searcy in 1948 to buy the system that also supplied water to Judsonia and Bald Knob. The White County Chancery Court approved the proposed purchase in a suit brought by E. O. Yancey, but the matter was taken all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court where the decision was reversed.” (Ibid.) The Supreme Court decision basically stated that it would be illegal for the City of Searcy to do what it was trying to do. To avoid this, a new entity was created known as White County Pipeline Company. The City was then able to purchase White County Water Company and sell water to the newly formed pipeline company to serve the surrounding communities. Eventually the surrounding communities would form their own water districts and purchased directly from Searcy; therefore, White County Pipeline Company ceased to exist.
The Modern Era
The current Searcy Board of Public Utilities was created by Ordinance #305 passed by the City Council of Searcy, Arkansas, on September 13, 1948. The original Board members consisted of E.P. Pyeatt, Hubert Smith, E.O. Yancey, Cal Aclin, and R.G. Deener. The following is a list of Board Members who have served through the years.
|E.P. Pyeatt||1949-1951||Dwane Treat||1981-1994|
|Hubert Smith||1949-1951||Jerry Moore||1976-1995|
|E.O. Yancey||1949-1957||Mickey Holt||1981-1994|
|Cal Aclin||1949-1971||Patty Koch||1995-2004|
|R.G. Deener||1949-1976||Butch Gardner||2004-2006|
|Wayne Pyeatt||1951-1960||Roger Vaughan||1981-Current|
|Elmer “Buddy” Allison||1971-1980||Reynie Rutledge||1983-Current|
|M.M. “Doc” Garrison||1958-1981||Donnie Miller||1996-Current|
|Phil Pyeatt||1960-1981||Steve Lightle||1996-Current|
|Ralph Duncan||1957-1983||Mel Sansom||2006-Current|
Ordinance #305 vested the Searcy Board of Public Utilities with the powers authorized by the laws of the State of Arkansas concerning the operation of a waterworks and sewage system. The Ordinance further authorized the purchase of the Searcy waterworks system from the White County Water Company, Inc., and has operated the water and sewer system ever since doing business as the Searcy Water and Sewer System.
Prior to the City’s purchase of White County Water Company Inc., the system was struggling to meet the water demands of the community and the Board almost immediately began the process of systematically upgrading the system to keep up with growth and prepare for the future. The first major upgrade began within the first year of operation in 1949 which included the addition of a 12” water line laid parallel to the existing single 10” line from the water treatment plant to town. This project also included the addition of two new filters and a new settling basin. This project was the beginning of a progressive attitude that continues even today. The Board and Utility Management has always consisted of civic-minded individuals whose goals have been to provide the best possible service to our customers while continuously looking forward to prepare for future growth and development in our community.
In 1949, the first audit report showed that the system had 1,505 water customers and assets totaling $738,184.66. As of June 30, 2011 the system had approximately 10,150 active water customers and assets totaling $62,140,613.00. The water system now serves the majority of White County with drinking water, either directly, through retail sales, or indirectly, through wholesalers. In 1949, the system had one wholesaler, White County Pipeline Company, Inc. Now, Searcy Water sells to North White County Water Assn., Four Mile Hill Water Assn., Southeast White County Water Assn., Southwest White County Water Assn., Kensett Water System, Judsonia Water System, and Northeast White County Water Public Facilities Board. The treatment plant capacity is currently approximately 15 million gallons per day and is currently undergoing a large expansion project designed to increase capacity to 19 million gallons per day. The wastewater treatment plant has also undergone several expansions and changes over the years, including moving its location. The plant was originally located near, what is now, Hayes Street. The plant was replaced by a lagoon system in the early 1960’s then again replaced by a treatment plant in 1986 at its current location. The current plant has also undergone several retrofits and upgrades since that time, and is currently rated at 5.0 million gallons per day.
In December 2003 (revised March, 2012), The Searcy Board of Public Utilities adopted the following Mission Statements:
It is the mission of the Searcy Board of Public Utilities, doing business as Searcy Water Utilities, to provide water utility services to the citizens of Searcy, Arkansas, utilizing the best practical technologies. This mission also includes providing water service directly or indirectly to the citizens of White County, Arkansas. In providing these services, the utility will strive to maintain adequate pressure for fire protection and other public safety uses and will make every effort to maintain sufficient volume to meet customer’s demands for water. The utility will also endeavor to provide a quality of water to the customer’s meter that meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements for potable water, as well as the customer’s strong desire for clean, clear and tasteful water. All of these services will be provided at a cost that is reasonable and equitable to all system customers and that will ensure the financial stability of the utility well into the future. It is also recognized that the performance of these vital functions can only be made possible through the effort and experience of the utility’s dedicated employees, and so the utility will strive to maintain a work environment that is conducive to productivity, safety and professionalism.
It is the mission of the Searcy Board of Public Utilities, doing business as Searcy Water Utilities, to provide wastewater utility services to the citizens of Searcy, Arkansas, utilizing the best practical technologies. In providing these services, the utility will seek to efficiently convey the customer’s wastewater from their tap to the treatment center so that adequate treatment can be performed in an environmentally responsible manner, meeting or surpassing all appropriate regulatory requirements. These services will be provided at a cost that is reasonable and equitable to all system customers and that will ensure the financial stability of the utility well into the future. It is also recognized that the performance of these vital functions can only be made possible through the effort and experience of the utility’s dedicated employees, and so the utility will strive to maintain a work environment that is conducive to productivity, safety and professionalism.
In September, 2011 the Board approved changing the “doing business as name” to Searcy Water Utilities.