Lenoir City Utilities Board and Martel Utility District are one step closer to finalizing a consolidation that would benefit more than 1,800 customers in Lenoir City.

Officials with LCUB, MUD and Lenoir City Council and Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw held a public necessity meeting Thursday to address any questions concerning the move.

Serious discussions between the two sides have been ongoing since August when LCUB initially approved moving forward with the process. Lenoir City has already approved plans for the agreement.

The city, county and MUD signed the consolidation agreement July 7.

“Let me begin by saying this has been a long journey,” Shannon Littleton, LCUB general manager, said. “Martel and LCUB has had a consolidation discussion for a long period of time, and I could say even up to two years — it’s been a long time getting to this day. This may be a little confusing to most, but the law states that the district shall consolidate with a department of the city of Lenoir City.”

Littleton said the consolidation was needed due to the rising pressures that smaller utility districts are facing.

The Martel district basin includes 1,860 customers and is located in the central-most part of LCUB’s map of operations. LCUB serves roughly 90,000 customers.

“What I’m saying is with our discussions with Martel, Loudon County is growing very rapidly, and there’s a lot of pressures on these utilities systems, including LCUB, to keep up the growth,” Littleton said. “There’s a lot of increased costs, there’s a lot of capital infrastructure, a lot of maintenance to be kept up with. Consolidating in that larger base of customers makes those rates more palatable and more able to be extended for a longer period of time without pressures of rate increases.”

Martel customers will see a 3 percent rate decrease effective immediately if the consolidation happens, Littleton said.

The final consolidation meeting will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the LCUB office, 7698 Creekwood Park Boulevard, Lenoir City.

“We were approached years ago by LCUB several different times about the possibility of a merger and at that time, we as the board, did not see that great of a benefit to the merger,” Mark White, Martel board member, said. “As times have come and as the pressures have been put on us for utility rate increases, we kind of skated off the increase for the last couple of years. I think this is really the only option for the ratepayers for Martel Utility District to do it to maintain equal rates. LCUB has been fabulous to work with.”