Berea Municipal Utilities (BMU) can list several major accomplishments during the seven-year tenure of outgoing director Ed Fortner. The $4 million renovation of the Oak Street electric substation made for a more efficient and dependable electric utility. BMU landed $2 million in grants for expanding Owsley Fork Dam, which could provide for Berea’s water needs for the next half century. Additionally, the utility has extended water lines toward the western part of town and laid the groundwork for future development by extending services toward the second phase of the Berea Bypass.
But the list goes on: The establishment of a certified waste water treatment facility, conserving the city’s water resources by repairing leaking lines, completing GIS mapping of all of the water, electric, and sewer infrastructure through the entire city, and completing the sewer pump station at Walnut Meadow. When considering all of those accomplishments, however, Fortner gives all the credit to BMU staff.
“The people did it, the management group, and the guys out working in the ditches,” Fortner said of his staff. “If you want to find hard working people, you can find them at 3 a.m. on a cold winter night in a wet ditch, or an electric lineman on a utility pole restoring service in sub-zero weather, with the wind howling. Those guys are heroes. They should be to the city.”
It’s perhaps for that reason that Fortner lists personnel development as the most important achievement during his tenure. Without a well-trained, dedicated staff, the rest of the infrastructure wouldn’t last long, according to Fortner. Because of that belief, Fortner promoted training, professional development opportunities for his employees, and worked to bring the pay scale up to a level commensurate with other municipal utilities. “The most important accomplishment for this utility has been personal and professional development of the staff. We’re just blessed to have educated, intelligent, thoughtful, caring and committed people at BMU,” said Fortner.
As for customer service, Fortner noted BMU has implemented remote meter reading so that residential clients don’t have to be disturbed, and new city accounting software enables the utility to identify problems and resolve them faster than before. But perhaps most importantly to customers is the fact that BMU’s utility rates have remained consistently low despite the amount of infrastructure improvements that have occurred.
“Besides delivering the product on a day-to-day basis and dealing respectfully with our customers, I’m also proud to say our rates have stayed among the lowest in the Bluegrass service area,” Fortner said. “We’ve been able to bring about dramatic improvements in the infrastructure of the utility while compensating staff fairly and building their professional capacity, so I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve accomplished. But none of this is about me. I’ve managed it and coordinated it, but the staff did it.”
When asked if he has any regrets about leaving Berea, Fortner noted the fact that he won’t be around to see the completion of projects he began. “If I have any regrets, I would have liked to have seen that dam project to fruition, but there’s always that next project on the horizon,” Fortner said.
Berea Mayor Steven Connelly praised Fortner for helping steer BMU through a challenging transition phase from three separate entities – sewer, water and electric – to a single working agency. Moreover, Connelly said Fortner was especially adept at looking ahead and getting funding for projects that addressed the future needs of the city. “He was able to help us see opportunities, and put us in a good position to take advantage of them and plan for the future,” Connelly said. “He was constantly open to new ideas and planning with the good of the community and the utility in mind.”
Berea City Administrator Randy Stone added Fortner’s presence was especially helpful when the city was facing so many complicated upgrade projects. “Ed was the right person for the times,” Stone said. “We appreciate all that he did to help guide those infrastructure improvements.”
Though Fortner will be moving west for a new opportunity, he said he’ll retain strong ties to the Bluegrass, including family members who will remain in Kentucky. “I’ve lived in four or five different states, so I’ve always had an adventurous spirit,” Fortner said. “But Kentucky is home. It will always be home.”