Infrastructure needs top city budget talks

Published 11:12 am Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A projected $3.118 million to assess, map and repair portion of the city’s 100-year-old sewer system topped the list of five capital projects in the utilities system and public works proposed for Vicksburg’s fiscal 2015 budget.

The projects were discussed Monday at a budget meeting between the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the utilities and public works departments. The meetings were the first of a series of meetings set Monday and today between the board and the directors of the city’s nine divisions and their department heads to set the city’s general fund budget.

Under state law, the city’s fiscal 2015 budget must be approved and in place by Sept. 15. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said the board would follow the same policy it used last year to fund the budget using 97 percent of the city’s revenue for the budget and transferring the other 3 percent into a contingency fund.

The sewer assessment and repair project is required under a consent decree the city signed with the Environmental Protection Agency in June 2013 after the EPA cited the city for allowing raw sewage to be dumped into the Mississippi River and other local streams during a five-year period.

Besides requiring the city to reassess its sewer system, the EPA also required the city to pass an ordinance toughening its regulations on cooking fat, oil and grease released in the system and fined the city $17,000. The sewer reassessment and repair project must be completed within 10 years under the agreement. Van Norman said the city would assess, map and repair 10 percent of the system each year.

Public Works Director Garnet Van Norman said the $3.118 million price tag is based on the cost of a similar EPA-mandated project underway in Memphis, Tenn., which is under a similar consent decree.

“We really don’t know what we’re going to find once we start assessing the system,” Van Norman said. “We’re talking about a 100-year-old system. There’s no telling what’s down there.”

The other capital projects planned in the proposed utilities and public works budgets included:

• Replacing the No. 1 softening unit at the water treatment plant on Haining Road, $1.9 million: The 46-year-old unit is used to soften the water as it is purified for drinking by mixing lime in the water. Van Norman said the city has two softening units at the plant that were installed when it was built in 1968. The No. 1 unit, he said, broke down because of age.

He told the board the new unit would last 20 to 25 years. “We’re talking a long-term fix,” he said.

• Replace the primary clarifier at the wastewater treatment plant on Rifle Range Road, $1.3 million: The 41-year-old clarifier was installed when the plant was built in 1973 and is one of two clarifiers that allow solids to settle out of the wastewater during the treatment process. The clarifier replacement is not part of the EPA consent agreement, but is required under the city’s license and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality certification regulations.

The city has applied for a Mississippi Development Authority community development block grant to cover about one-third of the project’s cost.

• Build a new odorant plant for the city’s natural gas distribution system, $50,000: The odorant plant will serve as a backup to the city’s existing system. Federal regulations require public and privately owned gas companies to put odor in natural gas as a safety measure.

• Build a connector road linking North Frontage Road and Wisconsin Avenue, $1.181 million: The city has received a low interest loan from MDA to build the road, which will link the two roads in anticipation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering Research and Development Center moving its main entrance to Wisconsin from Halls Ferry Road.

The road will leave North Frontage between River Hills Bank and the proposed new site of Excel Honda. City officials said it would also open property for development.

Besides the five capital projects, Flaggs said the board was going to find $100,000 for proposed projects in the Kings community, and discussed the possibility of a capital improvements bond issue sometime in fiscal 2015.

The city in June received an A2 bond rating from Moody’s Investment Services, a New York-based provider of credit ratings and risk analysis, and on July 25 approved refinancing two bond issues totaling $7.78 million, which Flaggs said could clear the way for a bond issue.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said he and South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson have been examining the city’s streets, adding, “if we float a bond issue for capital improvements, utilities and paving should be at the top of the heap.”

Besides extra money for capital improvements, Flaggs also said he wanted to increase funding for advertising and promoting Vicksburg using the facilities at TV23, the city’s local channel to produce the ads.

“We’ve got to get the brand of Vicksburg out more,” he said. “We need to try to go into markets.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John