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Aldermen to decide fate of engineering services for city

NATCHEZ — With the city’s contract with Natchez Waterworks for engineering services expiring at the end of this month, aldermen are deciding where they stand.

At issue is whether aldermen should renew the Waterworks contract or vote to establish an in-house engineering department.

“That’s what we have to look at,” said David Gardner, waterworks director and city engineer, who will retire in June.

Aldermen who could be reached Wednesday said city officials have been busy behind the scenes on this issue.

Specifically, the city has been calling other towns to see whether their engineering is done in house versus being farmed out to outside firms.

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenberry said that research has shown most cities contacted in recent weeks do not have in-house engineering departments.

“And that’s what I would recommend in our case,” he said. “When they need engineering work done, they’ll call an outside one.”

He noted that could be done on a project-by-project basis or by keeping a firm on retainer.

Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields, however, said there are advantages to establishing a city engineering department.

“I’m in favor of having our own (engineering) department, provided that it’s efficient and cost-effective to do so,” Fields said. “The city used to have one, and I think it served the city well.”

Fields said such a department would come in handy when the city needs a quick turnaround on a project.

“It would come in handy when we need an engineer’s stamp of approval or need an answer quickly,” he said.

Natchez Waterworks is largely independent from the rest of city government, with its own board and budget.

Aldermen would have to approve creating an Engineering Department before that change could be undertaken.

Late last year, aldermen were already discussing the pros and cons of the city going with its own engineering department versus renegotiating the contract.

Under the current contract, which the city entered into several years ago, the city paid the Waterworks $270,000 a year for engineering services.

This fiscal year’s budget, however, cuts that down to $222,000, according to City Hall figures.

Engineering services include such things as the building and maintenance of infrastructure and applying for grants, among other tasks.

Gardner announced in early February he would retire as waterworks director after being in that position since 2005.

Tony Moon has been named as his successor.

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