Natchez water rate increases discussed at work session

Published 12:12 am Friday, December 20, 2013

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Board of Aldermen discussed Thursday the possibility of increasing fees, rates and deposit requirements for water service.

At a work session meeting of the board, Natchez Water Works Superintendent David Gardner outlined reasons he said Water Works needs increased revenue.

The increases would include adding $1 to both the minimum water and sewage rates — both are currently $10 — and a 25-cent water quality analysis fee. Under the plan, the minimum amount of water before additional billing starts would be lowered from 300 cubic feet to 250 cubic feet.

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The water analysis fee is allowed by the Legislature, Gardner said, and would help Water Works recoup an unfunded water quality-testing mandate, though not in full.

The new plan would increase the minimum bill from $33.74 to $35.95, Gardner said.

“We haven’t adjusted our fees since the early 1990s, and it is time to do that,” he said. “We have potential infrastructure needs of about $20 million worth of work.”

The state health department recommends that all water departments have 10 percent revenues above their expenditures, and Water Works is projecting to break just above even in its next audited year, Gardner said.

“It is really important that we try to keep our water system in the healthy part of the (projected) graph so we can afford some of the infrastructure needs that are on the table,” he said.

“We have some cash reserves to cover extraordinary, catastrophic emergencies — and we are using some of those now — but we can use them and then you don’t have those reserves anymore,” he said.

The integration of treatment of heavier waste water from industry, the need for new and improved lift stations around the city and a new water well and tank with the ability to provide firefighting power in the Natchez-Adams County Port area were some of the infrastructure needs, among others, Gardner said will have to be addressed in the future.

Fee increases the Water Works board has recommended include:

• Increasing the reconnect fee to $25 from $15.

In comparison, the City of Vidalia’s reconnect fee is $50 and Adams County Water Association’s fee is $40, Gardner said.

• Increasing insufficient funds check fees to $40 from $20.

• Increasing insufficient fund check fees to $40 from $20.

• Increasing meter tampering fees from $50 to $75.

• Increasing deposit requirements from $50 to $100.

Gardner said Vidalia’s water deposit fee is $50 and Adams County Water’s fee is $150.

“When you set (a water account) up, you want to set it up about 90 days out,” he said. “You set it up, they use it for a month, you read the meter, and by the time you process it and bill it and give that account 15 or 20 days to pay before it is delinquent, you are 90 days out. If your average bill is $60, then your deposit needs to be twice that. I know that’s a big jump, so that’s why we recommend going to $100.”

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said the board will likely take action on the recommendations in January.

“We are discussing this now to ensure there will be as little impact as possible on those who are paying that minimum bill, those who have the least to work with,” Brown said.

Alderwoman Sarah Smith said making small adjustments to billing now would help residents adjust rather than putting off the higher billing until it significantly more noticeable.

“We want to avoid that sticker shock if we can,” she said.

The aldermen were also slated to discuss the continued use of Water Works staff as the city’s engineering department, but did not do so after two aldermen — Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis and Mark Fortenbery — had to leave the meeting to meet other obligations and the board no longer had a quorum.