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Ferriday Aldermen voice water concerns

Published 12:11am Thursday, August 15, 2013

FERRIDAY — After a heated discussion, the Ferriday Board of Aldermen chose not to raise water rates during their Tuesday meeting.

But the decision may not be final.

Mayor Gene Allen said the board would have another public meeting at 10 a.m. Monday to discuss increasing water rates by $6.

Allen said the town would not be able to continue its water system overhaul without the increase.

The overhaul would switch the town’s water supply from Old River to groundwater wells, replacing outdated and non-functioning water meters and fixing broken pipes in the water distribution system.

The town applied for a $5 million grant and $1.2 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier in the year to pay for the system, but the USDA’s letter of conditions states the town must prove it can generate enough money to pay for the water improvements.

USDA Louisiana Rural Development Director Clarence Hawkins said engineering and surveying firm Bryant Hammett and Associates would review the town’s finances before the grant is officially awarded.

“We don’t tell people what rates to charge,” Hawkins said. “We do require a revenue stream to service the debt on the loan. That is determined by analyzing the population and historical and financial data.”

Allen said the only way to prove the town can re-pay the loan is to raise rates.

The board of aldermen has a different opinion on increasing the rates.

“If we get the new water meters, the rates should go down because we will have more functioning meters,” Alderman Johnnie Brown said. “But I guarantee that rates will go up because we will have to pay money on the renovations. I think we should just wait until after the meters are installed.”

Alderman Elijah Banks opposed the increase during the board’s meeting Tuesday and said he doesn’t plan to change his vote.

“I’m not doing anything to the water,” Banks said. “My vote is my vote. What the people really want is to talk directly to the USDA.”

Many Ferriday residents also opposed the increase crammed into Town Hall to express their discontent.

“Sometimes (the water) is crystal clear, but other times it smells like sewage,” Ferriday resident Dorothy Anderson said. “I am not going to pay for an increase in the water if we are going to keep dirty water.”

Residents also complained about the water provider, JCP Management, accusing the company of incorrectly reading water meters.

“My bill has gone up way too much since the new company took over,” Ferriday resident Charles Smith said. “On my bill it looks like they are adding an extra zero to the end. There should be a three-digit figure; it should be in hundreds, not thousands.”

Ferriday has battled water problems for nearly 70 years. Allen said building a safe water system is his top priority.