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City must stop addiction to hydro funds

Financial experts caution clients to have emergency funds, just in case.

Such advice goes equally well for organizations and governments, too. Rainy day funds are needed because one never knows when the storm clouds of life may come.

Fortunately, the City of Vidalia had such a rainy day fund last year when too much rain and snow to our north caused the Mississippi River to flood to record levels.

Vidalia spent $2.5 million fighting the 2011 flood.

Unfortunately, Vidalia didn’t have time to resupply the fund before the rain left and the drought came.

Extremely low river levels drastically cut the output of the Sidney A. Murray Hydroelectric Station, a source of significant revenue for the City of Vidalia.

Reduced power output means a multi-million dollar loss to Vidalia’s budget.

Vidalia leaders have worked hard to cut staff and curtail spending to offset the losses, but the outlook still looks ominous. That’s particularly so as the river level hovers around the 9-foot mark on the Natchez gauge, far below average levels.

Revenue shortfalls caused by low river levels have been a threat for years, as noted by the city’s auditors who consistently point out the potential problem as a risk factor facing Vidalia.

Vidalia residents should challenge city leaders to make sure Vidalia is staffed and spending more conservatively going forward. Given its dependence on and proximity to the river, the city needs to ensure it can survive the rising and falling river even if we have the unfortunate luck of having a record flood followed by a drought.

Money from the hydro plant became addictive when things were flowing smoothly. Breaking that habit may be difficult, but it must be done.