Macon, MO Case Study
Located in northern Missouri, the City of Macon is rich in history, dating back to the late-1800’s and home to 5,500 residents. As with all old cities, Macon manages an inventory of aging infrastructure and equipment. The City’s utility department, Macon Municipal Utilities (MMU), is proactively working to address this in the most cost-effective way.
Customer since 2020 | Population: 5,500
- Aging infrastructure
- $4.8M headwork filtration system project
- Planning out future debts
- Difficulty communicating changes to elected officials
- Antiquated tools
RESULTS & BENEFITS
- Staff are fully empowered to maintain financially sustainable utilities
- Ability to see financial impacts when projects change
- Increased understanding of financial needs by elected officials
- Unlimited, expert professional support
For the City’s sewer service, Macon Municipal Utilities needed better in-house tools to manage collection and treatment costs, as well as plan for larger capital outlays. Staff has previously used spreadsheets, and for larger projects sourced third-party consultation. But because of the cumbersome nature of spreadsheets, and inherent delays with consultants, MMU was looking for a more flexible and dynamic in-house solution.
And, of course, the other side of managing public utilities is effective communication. Staff needed to explain complex scenarios to elected officials so that they could make good decisions. It was also important to educate ratepayers on the factors that impact their bills.
Waterworth provided an easy-to-use, in-house solution that is backed by professional support to address these challenges.
KEEPING UP WITH AGING SYSTEMS
MMU began using Waterworth at the beginning of a $4.8M headworks filtration project that is critical for the longevity of the sewer system, to prevent large materials like gravel and debris from damaging the rest of the system and threatening its integrity.
Stephanie Wilson, MMU General Manager, explains, “While visiting another Missouri community, I learned about Waterworth and I became very intrigued about the tool and its usefulness for conveying a story and using it for future planning. The thing we’ve been looking for we didn’t even know was present out there in the world.”
This timing allowed MMU to manage costs throughout the project, forecast how changes would impact cash position, and effectively communicate those impacts to board members.
Jennifer McLeland, MMU Controller, says, “Waterworth let us see the costs for this project spread out. We know how we’re going to pay for the current project, plus projects down the road that we know are coming because of regulatory changes.”
NAVIGATING FUNDING STREAMS
The Board has chosen to finance this project through reserves, because, Wilson says, “We know down the road we’re going to need to ask the public for bonding authority to let us borrow… so now we need better information to plan for future projects.” MMU was in a position where balancing its revenue stream with these anticipated upgrades had become cumbersome. They needed a solution to model funding for the headworks project now, as well as a financial roadmap for capital outlays in the future.
“With outside firms, or even with the spreadsheet from a regulatory agency, you only really have a three- or five-year look and you really don’t slide in other major improvements. You are just getting through this debt service and not thinking about other debt services coming down the pipe.”
VISUALLY COMMUNICATING MACON’S FINANCIAL STORY
But developing a financial model and running scenarios is only the half of it. As capital projects are bound to evolve and involve many moving pieces, MMU needed an effective way to communicate the impacts of those changes to Board members.
“Within our own utility, decisions change quick enough that by the time you get that information from the outside firm, it takes too long to get things changed to where you can display it to a board or the public,” says McLeland. “So, you either have a big cumbersome Excel spreadsheet that you can change quickly, but it’s hard to display to someone; or something easy to display that may be out of date as soon as you get the actual pretty copy in your hands.”
Luckily, Waterworth was built with that in mind. McLeland says, “Waterworth is a good in-between. It’s easy-to-access, easy-to-change, but it also displays it in a way that’s understandable to people who aren’t using it every day.”
In Wilson’s eyes, visualizing MMU’s financial position and the impacts of changes made the biggest difference. “I think that the pictorial display in Waterworth, that progression of things that you need out into the future, is important,” she says. “It’s easy to tell the exact same information to an elected official or the public, but when they can visually see it themselves, see the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows of the normal operations, before you need some big project done – and being able to click layers on and off to show them how different things affect what’s going on – that is very beneficial for them to understand the whole picture by the time you’re done.”
THE IMPACT OF PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT
Building a financial model in Waterworth requires the onboarding of financial data along with capital plans. But unlike many other tools and programs, you aren’t just given a tutorial and then left to your own devices. McLeland noted that Waterworth support staff have played a large role. “I think for me, being the one entering stuff and changing things, it’s nice to have the customer service side where it doesn’t matter how big or how small the question is, you can get that access very easily, but you can do it in pieces… There’s so many different levels of access that you can have and have right at your own fingertips, or the professional help if you need it also, that makes it very attractive.”
SAVING TIME BY GETTING AHEAD
Now Macon is proactively addressing work and reducing expensive emergency repairs to stay ahead of the curve. One of MMU’s next priorities is to separate its combined sewer and stormwater system. This will involve developing funding plans and user rates to recover costs.
They are empowered to do so with a purpose-built, in-house tool. “I don’t know that all utilities have the capability to do this behind the scenes themselves, and even having the ability to do it but having the time to create it yourself is highly unlikely,” says McLeland. “So, having the ability to change things and enter things [in Waterworth] yourself saves a tremendous amount of time.”
“It’s a very affordable tool,” adds Wilson. “It’s easy to use and to convey your message.”