By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Final approval of new water and sewer rates for the city is expected at the regular first Tuesday meeting of the Board of Aldermen on March 4 at city hall.
Residential customers can expect to pay an average of just over $1 more per month, according to Morris Surrette, water department manager.
Initially the board approved the increases last December after a presentation by Surrette on the costs of replacing worn out infrastructure and complying with new regulatory standards.
However, concerns over what the increases would do to local industry and the rural water systems prompted city officials to take another look at the rate structure.
Water Valley supplies water to both the Jeff Davis and O’tuckolofa Rural Water Associations. Each has forty-year-old contracts with the city signed in the late 60’s and up for renewal.
At the Feb. 11 board meeting, Buster Jackson of the Jeff Davis Rural Water Association explained to the mayor and aldermen that the new rates would more than double what they had been paying.
“This massive rate increase will work a hardship on many of our water users. Many live on fixed incomes.” Jackson said. “If we can’t get this rate reduced, we have no alternative but to pass it on to our water users.”
City Attorney David Burns said that the original contracts were out of date and this would be a good time to make changes.
Alderman Sherry Martin expressed concerns that if the city charged a whole lot less, the people in Water Valley will be subsidizing the Jeff David Water Association. “The more they use the less they pay per gallon,” she added. “It is totally out of date because it does not encourage conservation.”
Martin made a motion directing Attorney Burns to revise the ordinance and put it into proper written form so the revisions could be considered at the next meeting on Feb 19.
At that meeting, Attorney Burns told that board the ordinance does not have user classifications and everyone pays the same. He said the city could consider an amendment to the ordinance to include some fact-based classifications of users based on actual circumstances then address specific rates based on those classifications.
After some discussion, city officials purposed four classifications of water users to include residential, commercial, industrial and non-profit rural water associations.
Residential and commercial users will pay $9.90 for the first 2000 gallons and $1.86 for each additional 1000 gallons. Sewer rates will be $8.40 for the first 2000 and $1.20 for each additional 1000.
Industrial and non-profit rural water associations will pay the same $9.90 for the first 2000. However, each additional thousand will be $1.40. Sewer rates for industrial will be the same $8.40 for the first 2000, but will drop to $1.05 for each additional 1000. Sewer rates don’t apply to rural water associations.
“The most pressing thing in my opinion,” Attorney Burns added, “was to get these rate issues resolved and get that in place so that the city can start collecting the additional revenue.”
Among the future expenses to be covered by the rate increases is compliance with the EPA ground water rule by Dec. 1, 2009. The purpose of the rule is to provide for increased protection against microbial pathogens in public water systems that use ground water sources. “It means a lot of high-priced, sophisticated equipment,” Surrette said. “At least $80,000 and probably $100,000 for the monitoring equipment.”
Also, the city is going to have to replace worn out drinking water pipe and associated structures. “Some pipes may have been put in as early as the late 1860s,” Surrette told the aldermen. “The replacement costs of water mains are about $6300 per household in today’s dollars.”