Citizens still paying for unsafe water

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 12, 1999

FERRIDAY, La. – Ray Emfinger’s water bill went up $2 last month even though he has only been able to use the town’s water for bathing and flushing toilets for more than 50 days.

And he is not alone, for Ferriday’s 1,459 other water customers are also being billed for their water usage – even though the town has been under a boil water notice since Aug. 20.

&uot;I&160;don’t think we should have to pay, given this situation,&uot;&160;said Emfinger, whose bill was more than $25. He gets water and washes his clothes at his daughter’s house, which is served by Concordia Parish Waterworks District No. 2 – but still paid his bill Monday.

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&uot;You can’t brush your teeth with it, drink it, cook with it … the only thing you can use it for his bathing and flushing toilets,&uot;&160;said Debra Wilson, who paid a $38.70 bill. &uot;It’s not safe, so they should have left off charging us for it.&uot;

Because its water plant kept shutting down, the town issued a boil water notice Aug. 20. The plant shut down totally Aug. 23, forcing the Office of Public Health to issue its own boil notice, and stayed off for two and a half days.

But Mayor Odeal Montgomery said the town cannot afford not to charge residents for the water they use.

For year ending June 30, the town got about $439,000 from water sales. That money is used to operate the town’s water system – and $173,000 still had to be transferred from the town’s general fund to make the department’s ends meet.

&uot;How are you going to have the money to run a town if you don’t charge (water users)?&uot;, said Montgomery, who uses the town’s water for everything but drinking.

&uot;And how are you going to correct these (water) problems without funds?&uot;

The town has already spent more than $140,000 to make repairs to the plant and expects to spend $369,000 to make all necessary improvements, said Town Attorney John Sturgeon.

To help cover that cost, the town has been approved for $275,000 in grants to make needed repairs to the plant. It will be one to two more weeks before the town receives final

paperwork on the grants and can spend that money to make further repairs.

Next month the state Interim Emergency Board will consider giving the town about $94,000.

Still, Montgomery said she is not going to count on getting the latter grant until the town actually has the money in hand.

And despite the town’s recent water woes, Montgomery said that increases in water and sewer rates are likely if voters do not pass a 3/4-cent sales tax increase that will be on the Oct. 23 ballot.

The tax would offset the $50,000 a year Ferriday’s general fund lost when video poker machines were shut down in Concordia Parish June 30 and to make needed improvements to the Police, Fire and other city departments, Montgomery said.

&uot;And if the tax is defeated, we’ll run into problems,&uot;&160;she said. &uot;The money has got to come from somewhere.&uot;

Still, despite persistent water problems and possible rate increases looming, citizens are still paying their water bills, Town Hall workers said. And Montgomery said no citizens have complained to her about having to pay their bills.

Still, for Wilson, rumors of a possible rate increase if the tax doesn’t pass were the last straw.

&uot;I&160;hear our rates are going to be higher in the future,&uot;&160;Wilson said. &uot;But we shouldn’t have to pay them at all.&uot;