Rates on the rise? City considering utility rate increase

Published 12:15 am Thursday, May 16, 2013

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez is looking at water, inspection, permit and other services to determine if rates should be raised.

Mayor Butch Brown told the Natchez Board of Aldermen Tuesday at its meeting that he has consulted “several people” and discovered that the city’s rates are low compared to other cities.

“I’ve discovered in our inspection department we have not had a change in permit or inspection fees probably for close to 15 or 18 years,” he said.

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Brown said the city does not even charge for some house inspections that he believes are $100 in Concordia Parish.

Brown said the goal would be to get city departments to pay their own bills.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith, who serves as chair of the city’s utilities committee, said she would like to see rates increased incrementally in the future so the city would not get to a point where it had a considerable hike in rates all at once.

The minimum monthly bill at Natchez Water Works is $33.74 for 300 cubic feet — $10 each for water and sewer at $13.74 for garbage.

Water Works Superintendent David Gardner said Wednesday the last water rate increase was approximately seven years ago.

According to a 2012 water and sewer rate study by Allen & Hoshall engineering firm, water rates in surrounding areas are:

•Natchez: $10 minimum bill, $19 for 5,000 gallons and $35.49 for 10,000 gallons

•Adams County: $10 minimum bill, $23.75 for 5,000 gallons, $37.50 for 10,000 gallons

•McComb: $17 minimum bill, $21.28 for 5,000 gallons, $32 for 10,000 gallons

•Woodville: $14 minimum. $20 for 5,000 gallons, $30 for 10,000 gallons

•Vicksburg: $8.75 minimum bill, $18 for 5,000 gallons, $30 for 10,000 gallons

Gardner said more important that looking at current rates is considering for what the money from increased rates would be used.

“When you talk about a rate increase, you don’t look at where you are to justify it,” he said, “You look at what you need it for.”

Gardner said Water Works is looking at doing infrastructure improvements, costs that increased rates could help offset. One of the projects on the horizon, he said, are improvements to sewer and drainage on Highland Boulevard and U.S. 61 South, which would cost approximately $1.3 million.

The city is also looking into grant funding from the Delta Regional Authority to help fund the project.

Water Works also pays approximately $800,000 annual in bond notes, Gardner said. Increased rates could offset those costs.

“I’m not for doing a large increase,” Gardner said. “I think something that’s modest (and) on the low-end would be easier (for residents).”

Natchez Building Inspector Fred Galler is currently compiling a list of building permit and inspection fees in other cities in Mississippi similar to Natchez, including Vicksburg, Greenwood, Hattiesburg and other cities.

Galler’s initial assessments, he said, show that Natchez charges three to four times less for permits and inspections than other cities, such as Hattiesburg.

According to the City of Hattiesburg’s website, permit fees for a new single-family residence are $550, $50 for plans review and $500 for permit and inspections.

Building inspections are included in Natchez, and fees are based on cost of construction.

For example, a permit and inspection for a $50,000 house is $255 and $456 for a $100,000 house.

Galler said he is not sure when the last time permit fees were raised in the city.

Brown said the city wants to study other cities’ rates and fees and make sure any increases will be fair.

“We want something that’s equitable for the city and the taxpayers,” he said.