City officials eye water rate, inspection fee increasesPublished 12:15am Thursday, September 12, 2013
NATCHEZ — The city may not be raising taxes, but an increase in water rates and inspection fees may be in residents’ futures.
In an effort to prevent a city-wide tax increase, Natchez Mayor Butch Brown and the board of aldermen discussed both issues during a work session Wednesday afternoon. Aldermen will take up the issue in their regular board meeting Sept. 24.
“If we don’t raise taxes to cover costs, we have to raise fees,” Brown said during the session.
On the table is a proposal to increase water rates an average of 5 percent for residents who exceed the minimum water usage set by the city. For users below that level rates will increase by $2 — $1 for sewage and $1 for water, Brown said.
Currently the minimum water usage is set at 300 cubic feet or 2,250 gallons per month. Under the current plan, aldermen are also considering reducing the minimum water usage to 250 cubic feet or 1,870 gallons per month.
“If we don’t raise fees, we are going to have a time making budget,” Brown said.
The last time aldermen approved a rate increase was in 2007 when rates increased an average of $6 per month for residents.
The mayor and aldermen agreed that they wanted to do everything they could not to hurt residents who cannot afford a rate increase and those who are on a fixed budget.
“The increase will not hurt the minimum user, Brown said. “We are not going to punish people for being poor.”
Also on the table is an increase in the permit fee for city inspections for renovations and new construction.
Aldermen discussed a new fee schedule City Planner Frankie Legaux submitted last month.
Brown said the fee increases would help the department of inspections cover its own costs.
Brown pointed out that the city currently charges $4 for an electrical service inspection, a fee that does little to pay for the gas to and from a construction site.
“We can’t go to an inspection visit on $4,” Brown said. “Across the river in Vidalia, they charge something like $200 before you get your lights turned on.”
The proposed fee schedule also includes fees for building permits, which would range from $24 for construction less than $500 to $18,000 for projects over $5 million.
Alderman Dan Dillard said that local contractors are already unhappy with the city’s approval process.
“They already complain about the process. Now they will complain about the fees,” Dillard said.
“You can call it a fee, but most people are going to see it as a tax.”
Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she is more interested in attracting people who are interested in renovating some of the older houses in the city that need extensive repairs.
“I want to encourage people to come back to Natchez,” Mathis said. “If we want to reinvigorate our city, some of these fees are going to eat them up.”
Brown agreed to take the proposed permit fees off the table until the aldermen can discuss the issues further.
Brown said he still wants the board to support raising fees for electrical and plumbing inspections, certificates of occupancy and other related planning fees.
Brown pointed out that compared to other cities in southwest Mississippi, the proposed fee increases are reasonable.
“These are all middle-of-the-row fees,” Brown said. “Compared to across the river, they are way low.”
Brown said he expects the fee increases to raise nearly $53,000.
In other news:
The mayor and board of aldermen continued working on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins Oct.1.
Brown reiterated that raises would not be considered when the budget is approved, but may be considered when the city revises its budget.
Brown said he wants the city to review the budget in six months and then again in nine months for any revisions. At that time, if the city’s financial picture looks optimistic, then the city will consider raises and other changes to budget.
“I think we are at a point where we all understand the budget. It has its shortcomings,” Brown said. “In broad terms, it is the best budget (the city) has had in the last couple of years.”