City hopes more follow county supervisor lead|[9/18/06]

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 18, 2006

A deal to hook a county supervisor’s private development outside Vicksburg to municipal sewer lines may be the first of what the city hopes will be more deals to curb unpaid sewer taps in the county.

District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, along with partners Sidney and Gail Meacham, agreed on Aug. 21 to pay twice the regular city rate for sewer service at the industrial park they are building on U.S. 80.

McDonald said the park will be the future site of the former Washington Street car transmission business, Automatic Transmissions, and Arc-Up Welding, and has received some interest from other possible tenants.

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Automatic Transmissions will lease the space from McDonald, as it did on Washington Street, but he said this morning Arc-Up has bought its building in the new development.

The development will be served with water through the Culkin Water District and its effluent will go into municipal lines. McDonald said it’s a good deal. &#8220The city gets twice the revenue and it saves us from having to put in a treatment plant,” he said.

Vicksburg has operated a sewage collection network for at least 100 years. Outside the corporate limits, there are many private sewer systems, most of them operating treatment lagoons. Another option is a self-contained septic system.

Vicksburg officials said they hope the new development will set a precedent toward solving what they say is a persistent problem of county residents and businesses tapping into city sewer lines without paying the normal municipal rates.

&#8220The problem that we have most of the time is that people out in the county could have a sewer account and then not pay, and the problem is we don’t have any recourse,” said City Attorney Nancy Thomas. &#8220If we don’t provide them water, we can’t cut their water off. We’re trying to set up a situation where we can go onto the property to turn the water off” through a mechanism that would cut service to city lines while still allowing water districts to provide water normally.

As an example, Thomas said Riles Funeral Home, just outside city limits on Indiana Avenue, was given permission to connect to city sewer lines. But because it doesn’t provide water service, Vicksburg would be hard-pressed to collect if the funeral home didn’t pay bills.

‘There’s no written agreement,” Thomas said. &#8220We’re trying to make it a more formal process.”

The city currently serves 96 active customers outside the city limits with water, 77 customers with sewer and 75 with natural gas, said Strategic Planner Paul Rogers. Water and sewer rates double for county residents, and gas rates are 25 percent higher. A &#8220customer” could be a resident, a business or an entire apartment complex, he said. Vicksburg also sells water to outlying water districts, either as a total supply or as a supplement to private wells and filtration systems.

But &#8220we basically don’t know” how many county residents and businesses are hooked up without the city’s knowledge, Rogers added. Tammye Christmas, in charge of collections at the Water & Gas Administration on Drummond Street, said she also had no guess as to the number.

Unpaid use of services is essentially a &#8220fair share” issue, Rogers said, in helping keep up the city’s infrastructure.

In the case of sewer, &#8220We lose money in the general maintenance of the system, plus the wastewater treatment plant processes the waste,” he said.

Water is metered and sewer rates are based on water usage. Currently, base rates would result in a water bill of $20.72 for 8,000 gallons and $22.89 for 8,000 gallons for sewage. Those rates will rise by 25 and 26 cents per thousand gallons, respectively, on Oct. 1. A county resident could be expected to owe about $50 for 8,000 gallons of water used to move sewage, though a commercial development like McDonald’s would likely use much more.

The city does not make money on water, sewage or any other utility, operating each in a separate fund with the goal of breaking even, though all but sanitation continue to operate at a loss. The water fund in the 2006 budget was projected to collect $3.9 million in metered sales but spend more than $4.72 million in personnel, services, supplies and capital costs, resulting in a $706,000 shortfall that is expected to shrink by about $50,000 in the upcoming 2007 budget.

City sewer service was expected to generate more than $3.3 million in 2006, the same total projected for the upcoming year. The system operates at a loss of more than $1.46 million per year.