City to privatize water treatment plant

Published 10:52 am Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Vicksburg’s water treatment plant on Haining Road is going private — a move that will result in the possible layoff of the eight city employees working there.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday approved an agreement with Jackson-based engineering firm CDM Smith, which specializes in water and environmental matters to help city officials prepare requirements for requests for proposals from companies interested in taking over the water treatment plant.

The cost of the move and whether it will save the city money, is undetermined. Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said part of the CDM’s contract requires the company examine the possible cost savings to the city. The fiscal 2016 budget for the water treatment plant is $5.072 million.

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“For the first time, the city of Vicksburg is going to proceed on going forward with outsourcing the water treatment part of the city of Vicksburg,” Flaggs said. “We’ve never done before, and it’s out of necessity and emergency, because of the fact we lost our certified operator.”

Flaggs said Mississippi Department of Health requires public water treatment plants to have a certified operator. Public water systems are required under state law to have a certified operator, either on staff or under contract.

The city has been without a full-time operator since water plant director Pat McGuffie resigned Aug. 7 to go to the Culkin Water District, and had contracted with a company to provide a certified operator to meet the regulations.

Flaggs said the city advertised for the job, but was unable to find a replacement for water treatment plant, “because it (the position) requires you to stay (live) within a 50-mile radius of plant.

Now we’re in a position where none of our personnel, who have been there over time with the city operating the water plant, are eligible or near being eligible to certify themselves to become that operator. That means only one thing — we’re going to have to contract out.”

He said the affected employees have been notified by mail about the decision to privatize. He said the employees have been offered first choice for any other open city position and city officials would try to help them find other jobs.

“We’re going to provide the water for 25-plus thousand people and corporations or entities in the city, and we don’t want to lose our certification to run that plant. I know the citizens of Vicksburg and the surrounding area don’t want us to lose that,” Flaggs said.

“So we had no other choice but to start this process if we’re going to provide the water quality we provide the citizens of Vicksburg. I don’t know any other way I can put that.”

South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson said he agreed with the decision to privatize.

“I think we have to look out for what’s best for the city, and water treatment service is probably one of the most important services we’re going to provide to the city; making sure our residents have safe and clean water.”

He said the city has to make sure the city has backups when operating systems like the water treatment plant.

“Sometimes when you’re reduced down to one or two people who know anything about the whole operation, I think that’s a danger in itself,” he said. “We just can’t be in a position where we are held hostage by an individual. This is the best way to go moving forward and I think it’s the best option for the citizens of Vicksburg.”

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.

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