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Potential Rate Flip-Flop Comes After Warning

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – It’s been a year since city officials were first told that the town was entering the “age of replacement” for it’s aging water and sewer infrastructure.

At the December 2007 meeting of the Board of Aldermen, Water and Sewer Department Manager Morris Surrette explained to aldermen that it is projected to cost around  $250 billion over the next 30 years nationwide for replacement of worn out drinking water pipe and associated facilities.

Morris said that the replacement costs/value of water mains is about $6300 per household in today’s dollars. “Ultimately the rate paying public will have to finance the replacement the nation’s drinking water structure.”

“What we can do is work with the public to increase awareness of what’s ahead and assess local rate structure to adjust rates when necessary,” he added.

Three months later at the March board meeting, aldermen voted to amend the Water Resources Management Ordinance to raise outdated water rates. The reason for the increase, they said, was not only to cover the costs associated with revamping the worn out system, but also to comply with new government regulatory standards.

The new regulations require stricter monitoring of the system 24 hours a day. “That means a lot of high-priced, sophisticated equipment” Morris said. “It could cost at least $80,000 and probably $100,000 for the monitoring equipment.”

Now aldermen are considering amending the amendment to return rates for the industrial classification to the level they were before the increase. The rates for residential and non-profit rural water associations are not included in the proposal and will remain at the higher level.

The proposed amendment came after a request for help at the December board meeting from Valley Poultry, LLC. Phillip Tallant, plant manager for the company said that the poultry processing plant’s water bill that had more than doubled from March to April.

The industrial rate decrease will take effect if aldermen vote to adopt the proposed amendment Jan. 6 at the “first Tuesday” board meeting.

However, Mayor Bill Norris and Surrette have both said that the old rate did not cover costs. According to a study done by Tom Abernathy of the Mississippi Rural Water Association, it costs the city $1.36 per 1000 gallons to provide water to users.

“That figure is for right now,” the Mayor said. “And, it is going to cost more in the near future. The old rate didn’t cover the cost of the electricity used to pump the water.”

“We need to think about that before we go and drop the rate,” Alderman Fred White said earlier this month. “All that was taken into consideration when we did this water (rate) increase.”

“There’s got to be some money management going on,” Surrette added. We’ve got to plan for the future.”

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