Middleton’s campaign plans to give free water fall through

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, December 31, 2008

NATCHEZ — When he was campaigning, Mayor Jake Middleton said in campaign material he planned to give city residents a month of free water in December.

The plan, however, did not come to fruition.

Middleton said unexpected expenditures made it impossible to give free water.

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He said cleaning up after Hurricane Gustav and the Dec. 9 tornado put a strain on an already tight budget.

Middleton said while federal funds have been allocated to pay for damages, those funds aren’t in yet.

Natchez Water Works Superintendent David Gardner said it would cost water works approximately $350,000 to not charge residents for one month.

Middleton said he hadn’t fully discussed with Gardner exactly how much it would cost the city, but he knew it wouldn’t be cheap.

“I knew it was going to be a big figure,” he said.

And for water works, Gardner said now is not the time to lose money.

“That would hurt because we’ve got a lot of projects,” he said. “We have a lot of things we need to do.”

One of the projects Gardner is talking about involves the two lagoons water works has at the wastewater treatment plant.

He said both lagoons have a 20-year life storage.

“We’re well into those 20 years right now,” he said.

So to make sure things continue to run smoothly with the lagoons, Gardner said water works is going to spend between $500,000 and $600,000 on equipment to do that.

He said if water works were to contract the job out, it would cost $4.5 million.

In addition to that, Middleton said after trimming fat out of the budget and asking department heads to cut 5 percent from their budgets, there’s no money in the budget for free water.

“We just couldn’t afford to do it this year,” he said.

The city has given away a month of free water before, under former Mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown’s administration, Middleton said.

“It gives the people a little bit of a break at Christmas time,” Middleton said.

And he still wants to do it.

“I’m not saying we can’t do it next year. We’re going to try,” Middleton said. I’ve got to use good management practices at city hall, and at this point in time, it’s something we can’t do.”