Tallulah City Council votes to enter receivership for water plant

Published 11:07 am Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The ongoing quest to solve problems with the City of Tallulah’s outdated water plant took a step in a new direction last week when the city council voted on Thursday to enter into a joint state receivership.

The council voted 3-2 to enter into the receivership with the State of Louisiana and city spokesperson Yvonne Lewis said the move comes after a planned rehabilitation project several years in the making all but fell through.

“We had put together about $15 million,” Lewis said. “We thought that would be enough to get the project done. We bid the project twice and the last bid was $19 million.”

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The city’s approximately $15 million in budgeted funding is a combination United States of Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds and water sector and ARPA monies.

“We went back to our funding sources and they encouraged us to (explore our options),” she said, adding city officials also met with Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry about the issue.

“When we went down to Baton Rouge to meet with the governor, that was the first time that we had heard the idea of this whole receivership and basically what he said was that the state would come in, the state would support the receiver to come in and take over all water operations that will have complete autonomy over the water system. They would have up to 90 days to assess the plant and also assess all of the options that we are aware of and also maybe some options that they know of that we aren’t aware of.”

Lewis said the state would then put together a long-term, sustainable plan for the city within those 90 days.

“The other thing that was a real benefit of the receivership was that they are going to look at the distribution system.”

Lewis said a lingering concern of the city’s plan to rehabilitate the aging water plant was that problems with pipes and other underground distribution components would continue to cause problems for customers.

“Now we’re going to be able to also assess the distribution system, because what the state doesn’t want to see happen is a lot of money being spent on the water plant, and then when the water gets to someone’s house, it’s still brown,” she said. 

The decision to enter into the city-state agreement came last week at the recommendation of City of Tallulah attorney Pamela Grady, who told council members the city could be at risk of being forced into a receivership whether it voted on the matter or not.

“It is important to note that the City of Tallulah is under two Administrative Orders C-19-065-020-REQ (which deals with the Tallulah Water System not having enough Level 3 Certified Operators) and C-18-065-055-REQ (which deals with issues of repairs) at the plant,” Grady wrote in a memorandum for Thursday’s meeting. “As you are all aware, a potential state-instituted receivership may happen at any time and is likely imminent based on conversations that you have all had with state representatives. The City of Tallulah does not have to vote on receivership for receivership to become a reality. That said, given the City’s ownership of its water system and its loyalty to its employees, it may be best to work with the agency and the state on the prospect of receivership rather than be subjected to an agency-led takeover.”

In relation to the lack of certified employees at the plant, Lewis said the receivership doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of jobs for current workers.

“A lot of the individuals working at the water plant were not certified,” she said. “We had a meeting with the entire water team. They are supposed to have one year in order to get their Level 1 certification. That hasn’t been followed. It’s very hard to not keep individuals who have the practical job experience. While we’re pushing them to get their certification, we did let them know that, ‘Hey. There’s going to be a new sheriff in town and things are going to change.’ So what we’re going to do is, we are going to propose to the receiver that there be some sort of training program implemented where the guys that are already there continue to get the on-the-job training. We feel like that if anybody should be helped, it should be our people first.”

Lewis also stressed that a state-led receivership would not be a permanent fixture in Tallulah.

“Overwhelmingly, the majority of people (in Tallulah) wanted the receivership,” Lewis said.
I think one of the biggest hurdles for the opposition was giving up control of the water system itself. However, what I think a lot of people don’t understand is, it’s not going to be forever. Like our attorney said, if there is a time in the future where the water system has been fixed, the distribution system has been addressed, the plant is operating correctly and we’re in the black, what would be the reason to keep the receiver there? There is an end in sight.”

Should it take effect, Lewis said the receivership would also come at a monetary cost, but revenue would continue to flow locally.

“Right now, all of the revenue from water is still going to water. It’s still going to be right here. We will, at some point, have to pay the receiver. That’s just one of the costs that we’re going to have to take. But, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”