Aldermen have not yet discussed or voted on matter

Published 8:13 am Thursday, April 5, 2007

Natchez Water Works has done the math, and decided they had to raise water rates. They’ve done the necessary paperwork, drawing up a proposed ordinance to put before the city.

Now, the board has to pass it for the waterworks to stay in business.

But the issue hasn’t been addressed in meetings since it was brought to the board’s attention two months ago.

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“We hope it will be brought up in the next few meetings because it’s very important to the waterworks,” Water Works Superintendent David Gardner said. “We’ve lost money for the past three years, and because of that, we’re in violation of our requirements for bonds and for the health department.”

Both the health department and the bond issuers require the waterworks to make at least a small profit.

The city’s water rates haven’t changed in 12 years, but the costs of materials and operation has, he said.

If the board passes the ordinance, the average household will see a $6 increase added to their water bill each month.

Alderman Theodore “Bubber” West said the board had not discussed the issue. He said Gardner and the water commissioners had laid out the facts of why they felt the rate hike was necessary.

“Now, it is incumbent on the board of aldermen to discuss those facts and see if we feel it’s necessary at this time — to see if we can postpone it or if it’s an emergency and we have to do it now,” West said. “We are looking for the best possible solution. There are people in this community who cannot afford a water rate raise.”

Alderman Bob Pollard said the issue wasn’t on the agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting. However, the topic was something the board had to address, he said.

“If we’re out of compliance, I think it’s something we must do,” Pollard said. “It’s not something that we want to do. But it’s got to come back up for discussion again, there’s no doubt about that.”

If the waterworks is in violation of health department and bond rules, there was no question the city would have to approve a rate hike, Alderman David Massey said.

“(Natchez Water Works) have come to us at least three or four times since they originally requested the increase and begged us,” Massey said.

“Every month we put it off, it puts them deeper in debt. I think people don’t want to address it because it’s such a hot item.”

Although approving a rate hike would be an unpopular move, it might be something the board would have to do, Aldermen Jake Middleton said.

“Nobody likes anything to go up, whether it’s gasoline or water, but sometimes we have to do those kinds of things,” Middleton said. “Unfortunately, the cost of operation today is not what it was five years ago.”

Even if the board approves the rate increase, Middleton said he would still like the waterworks to keep its budget as low as possible.

“If (a rate increase) is necessary, it’s kind of hard to argue with it,” Middleton said. “We also have to tighten our belt and be good stewards of the money and be frugal with our spending.”

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis could not be reached for comment. Alderman James “Ricky” Gray would not comment.