Aldermen approve water rate increase

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The average Natchez resident will soon be paying $6 more each month for water.

The board of aldermen approved an increase on Natchez water rates with the mayor breaking a tie at Tuesday’s meeting.

Alderman David Massey brought up the waterworks’ request.

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“We’ve had the issue now for six or eight months,” Massey said.

Natchez Water Works Supervisor David Gardner said the city could suffer if the rates weren’t increased. The department is operating in a deficit, something prohibited by the state health department and bonding agencies, he said.

That could put a black mark on the city’s next audit report, causing lenders to pause when considering loaning the city money, Gardner said.

Alderman Jake Middleton asked if the coming investments, like the new hotels, would serve as good customers and help the department’s bottom line.

“I feel good about (those), but we need something done now,” Gardner said.

Under the rate hike plan, the city will have to review the waterworks’ finances each year for five years and consider whether they should raise the rates in smaller increments, he said.

“As chair of the water board, this is a long time coming,” Alderman Bob Pollard said. “Sometimes we need to do things that aren’t popular, things we don’t like to have to do. But sometimes we must do what we must do to keep the water board in compliance.”

Alderman James “Ricky” Gray said he was not in favor of the rate hike.

“I just have a problem,” Gray said. “I understand we got to do what we got to do. But people I represent tell me all the time they can’t afford it.”

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she would like to see information on the possibility of privatizing the waterworks to see if that would make more financial sense.

“I want to make sure this is the right way to go an d the only way to go,” Mathis said. “Until then, it’s not going to get my vote.”

Gardner pleaded for the board to consider the rate raise. The department is operating on 1994 dollars — the last time the rates were raised — but they were buying equipment at 2007 prices, he said.

Not only that, but there are fewer customers in town since 1994. They needed that rate raise, he said.

“The way I see it now, there’s no way we can do without it,” Gardner said.

When all was said and done, Pollard, Massey and Middleton voted ‘yes.’

“I vote yes with a lot of reluctance,” Middleton said. “I don’t want to see the city loose our bond rating, but I don’t like raising rates.”

Mathis and Gray voted ‘no.’ Alderman Theodore “Bubber” West said “pass” when he was asked for his vote, but after all others had voted, he voted ‘no.’

“I understand the need for the increase, but I still think there are some innovative things out there we can do,” West said. “There are people in the community who have to chose between medicine and groceries. I’m going to vote ‘no’ until we have more information.”

It was up to Mayor Phillip West to break the tie.

“I vote ‘aye,’ but I would be up to entertaining any discussion to roll back the rates if we get information that would justify or not rolling back the rates,” Phillip West said.

In an executive session in a planning meeting before the regular meeting, the board met with a representative from the Lane Company, Massey said.

Lane is looking at locating a casino boat and riverfront development under Roth Hill.

“We’re trying to firm up the contract” between the city and the company, Massey said. “Within the next two weeks it should be finalized. There were three sticking points, and we agreed on two. There’s one left to negotiate.”

Massey wouldn’t elaborate on what those points of contention were.