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Ferriday board approves water rate increase

FERRIDAY — The Ferriday Board of Aldermen voted Monday to raise the town’s water rates by $6 a month hoping the increase will open the door for an overhaul of its current water system.

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town’s water supply from a surface water operation, which uses water from Old River, to groundwater wells, replacing outdated and non-functioning water meters and fixing broken pipes in the water distribution system.

In order for the overhaul to begin, Mayor Gene Allen told board members that the water rates must increase in order to show the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the town can generate enough money to pay back a loan that’s part of a grant funding package.

The town applied for a $5 million grant and $1.4 million loan from the USDA earlier in the year to pay for the system.

“We can’t get the $5 million if you can’t pay the $1.4 million back — that’s just the way it is,” Allen said. “In order for us to get the loan, we have to (raise the rates).”

Alderwoman Somer Lance — who was one board member who called for the special meeting Monday — said she didn’t like the idea of raising rates, but that it was the only way to generate enough funds to payback the loan.

“If you see the records of how much we’re losing on water alone, there’s no way we’ll be able to repay the loan,” Lance said. “I feel like it’s the move to make…or there’s no way we’ll be able to get the loan.”

Aldermen Johnnie Brown and Elijah “Stepper” Banks — as well as several Ferriday residents in the audience — said they didn’t agree with the increase, which would be the second in the same number of years.

“We keep going up on money, but we can’t account for it,” Banks said. “If we were going to go up on rates down the road, we should be getting some good water by now.”

Brown said he believed when the board voted on a similar $6 increase in 2012 that the funding from those additional rates were to be put into a separate account to help with the USDA loan.

“Where is the money?” Brown said. “I don’t want to lose $5 million either, but my constituents say they don’t want an increase.”

Allen said the previous increase was done under the previous administration of Glen McGlothin and that Allen was not informed of any special account for the water rate increases when he took office.

“This is not about me, this is about the citizens of Ferriday having good, clean water,” Allen said. “We need good water but in order for us to get it, we have to repay the loan.”

The motion to increase the monthly water rates eventually passed 3-2, with Banks and Brown voting against the increase.

Allen said he would soon be in contact with the USDA to begin the next step of the overhaul process, which would be to accept bids for meters and other construction.