But if public utilities numbers mean anything, the Cleveland and Bradley County community is headed for better times.
The subject arose recently in a pair of Cleveland Utilities monthly reports, both of which show signs of recovery in the construction industry which is generally an indicator of economic strength.
One positive number is found in meter sets which is a term used by CU to describe new-customer hookups to the water system. These generally represent new construction whether by area businesses, industries or residential developers.
“We’re up quite a bit,” according to Craig T. Mullinax, manager of CU’s Water Division. “Hopefully, that’s a good sign.”
In August, CU recorded 34 new meter sets compared to only 23 for the same month in 2010, and 25 in August 2009.
The new fiscal year is only two months old, but already CU has recorded 72 meter sets compared to 54 for the same period last year, and 57 for the same two months in 2009.
In recent years, the largest number of meter sets for July and August came in 2004-05, with 79. The lowest amount was just last year in 2010-11 with only 27 meter sets for the fiscal year’s first two months.
“[We’re seeing] a good cross-section of uses,” Mullinax said. He was referring to the number of meter sets for single-family dwellings as compared to townhomes and residential units with three or four apartments. One meter set was a huge commercial customer — the new Whirlpool Cleveland Division manufacturing facility on Benton Pike.
Another potential trend-setting report — also involving the CU Water Division — is found in the public utility’s accounting ledgers which is showing a major increase in access fees and a jump in the number of water customers.
Ken Webb, manager of the Accounting Division, called both “encouraging” evidence that the economy is picking up.
In the first two months of the fiscal year, CU recorded access fees totaling $50,418. An access fee is what is paid by a new CU customer — such as a developer — to hook up a new construction to the CU water system.
“That compares to $32,470 at the same time last year and a projected amount for this year of $32,602,” Webb said.
It’s also about total customer numbers.
“The other encouraging sign I see is in the number of water customers,” he explained. “This August, the total was 29,908. The number last August (2010) was 29,545, an increase of 363 customers. Eight of the nine customer classifications recorded increases and one classification stayed the same.”