Water Rates: An increase is likely

Published 6:57 am Monday, April 25, 2022

It is always easy to write an article about an emerging economic opportunity, an exciting new project, or the harmony we are experiencing as a unified community.

Today, however, I am addressing you to explain a proposed water rate increase.

It will always be my top priority as your mayor to not hide anything from the people of Natchez.  Our citizens deserve transparent and honest leadership, and in this article, I will attempt to explain why we are faced with this decision, how our rates compare to other communities in Mississippi, and what exactly is being proposed.

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Since 2017, operating expenses have been higher than operating revenues at Natchez Water Works.  There has been a trend showing increasing revenue over the last two years but as of 2021, the operating expenses still came in at $6,187,607 versus $5,525,104 in revenue. This kind of deficit situation could seriously threaten our water service in years to come.

While our city has seen economic growth and new businesses opening since late 2020, there are several reasons why we are seeing this deficit. Of these reasons, one is a large decrease in prison population at Core Civic, one of Natchez Water Works’ largest customers. In addition, other large consumers of water have been employing smart ways to conserve. Of even greater consequence are the increasing costs associated with aging infrastructure. As a result, Natchez Water Works is being forced to propose an increase in water rates.

While an increase appears to be inevitable, it is important to put our situation in perspective.  Using the Allen & Hoshall 2020 Water and Sewer Rates Survey, Natchez Water Works recently provided the Mayor and Board of Aldermen with a utility rate comparison sheet where it showed proposed rate increases in Natchez against what other cities of similar size around the state are paying. The proposed increase in Natchez would bring the cost of 5,000 gallons to $47.14 by 2027. In 2020, for the same amount consumed, Adams County Water charges $50.25, West Point charges $69.90, Vicksburg charges $52.14, and McComb charges $58.09.  Due to the incredible stewardship of Natchez Water Works, rate payers would still enjoy some of the most affordable rates in the state, with the base rate for water going up $2 per month and the base rate for sewer going up by the same amount.

Natchez Water Works determines their rates based on consumption ranges measured in cubic feet. Base rate customers, which make up 38% of rate payers, consume between 0 to 300 cubic feet of water per month. They have not seen a rate increase in 15 years.

The largest range of consumption, which make up 46% of rate payers, are those who consume 300 to 1,000 cubic feet per month. All other ranges mainly cover small businesses to large industrial operations. Customers under these consumption ranges have not seen a water rate increase in 11 years.

The proposed increase spreads out a 5% per year increase across the different consumption rates groups over a 5 year period. Ratepayers that are in the top 1.2% and consume more than 10,000 cubic feet per month will see slightly less per year increase, depending on their consumption. This approach allows those with lower water consumption to not be burdened with paying more than their fair share while not pricing larger companies out of doing business in Natchez and Adams County.

We are blessed to have some of the cleanest and highest quality water in the country. Not enough words of praise can be said for NWW Board of Water Commissioners, Superintendent Tony Moon and the team at Natchez Water Works. Because of their proactive leadership over the years, Natchez has been spared the horror stories that we hear from so many other cities. Our local team has worked hard for many years to make our system the best. A recent example of this was last year’s ice storm, where Natchez went from being almost without water pressure on one day to being the first water system approved for resuming service by the MS State Department of Health just two days later.

In spite of all they do, if we do not provide proper funding today, we will be burdening citizens in the not-to-distant future with all of the costs and negative outcomes that are the direct result of deferred maintenance. Water is a basic necessity of life, and we must invest in our infrastructure to keep this essential service flowing. It’s important to our health. It’s important to our economy. It’s important to all of us, because Natchez Deserves More!

 

Dan Gibson is mayor of Natchez.