Utility rate increase likely here

Published 7:21 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Vicksburg’s utility rate structure is insufficient to handle the cost of maintaining, repairing and upgrading city water and sewer services, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said, and a rate increase in is the works.

“We’ve got to improve,” Flaggs said. “We’re barely meeting the needs of residential (service). We’ve got to do something with fees for service. We either raise fees or we raise taxes. I’d rather raise the fee for service than raise taxes, because everybody ought to be paying based upon usage.

The mayor’s comments came as the Board of Mayor and Aldermen discussed the capital fund budgets for the city’s water and wastewater treatment plants, adding the city’s wastewater treatment plant is outdated and unable to handle the future needs of the city, and needs to be replaced by a new facility.

The budgets for the city’s water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant include multimillion dollar projects, some of which, like the $2.07 clarifier replacement project at the wastewater treatment plant on Rifle Range Road, will be carryovers from the present 2017 fiscal year. Others, like the estimated $3.5 million electrical upgrade for the water treatment plant on Haining Road, are proposed for the fiscal 2018 budget that begins Oct. 1.

The city is also waiting for state Department of Health approval of plans for the city’s auxiliary water line, which is paid in part by a $2.45 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers grant. The city’s match for the project is $728,750.

“If you’re talking about long term, beyond that (wastewater) plant being obsolete, we’re under an EPA decree, we’re spending millions of dollars trying to satisfy the EPA decree,” Flaggs said.

“If we’re looking to move this city forward, we’re going to have to look at making improvements to wastewater treatment.

“You can’t go leaving a plant that goes underwater every time it storms,” he said referring an April flood, when two swollen streams near the wastewater treatment plant flooded the facility. The plant was also threatened by the 2011 spring Mississippi River flood.

“If we’re going to plan for the future, we’ve got to look at building another wastewater treatment plant somewhere in the South Ward of the city of Vicksburg.”

That new plant, he said, was one of the reasons for increasing water and sewer rates.

“We cannot continue to rely on the fees for service that we are charging our people for the service they receive for water treatment and water usage. I think it is incumbent on us to start looking at a master plan for wastewater treatment as we did for the water treatment plant.”

Without that plan and the money to pay for the upgrades, he said, “You might as well kiss Vicksburg goodbye.”

“The city of Vicksburg cannot grow and cannot develop itself around an inadequate wastewater treatment system,” he said.

“I don’t want anyone for one moment to think that any of these budgets represent the future, because they do not. We’re looking at beyond capital improvements. We’re talking about having to borrow another $2 to $3 million just to meet the obligations that relate to the EPS decree.”

South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour said a city’s infrastructure and its ability to handle growth are one of the things businesses and industry look at when considering relocation.

“That’s what keeps us from attracting business,” he said.

City officials in 2013 signed a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency that requires the city to assess and map and upgrade or replace its 109-year-old sewer collection system after tests indicated raw sewage was flowing into area streams, including the Mississippi River.

The sewer line assessment is in its second year, and the board approved a $1.4 million contract with Suncoast Environmental to begin sewer system repairs. Flaggs in July appointed a 10-member committee to examine utility rates and make a recommendation. No date has been set for the committee to present its report.

“I refuse to be like any other city in our state where people complain about water pressure,” Flaggs said. “We’ve got to do something about water usage, infrastructure, long term in this city, and that’s a fact of life. I have every intention to come up with a master plan and a plan to pay for it.”

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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