Water/sewer rate increase causes concern, but patching the system isn’t cutting it anymore

City Council July 24 2017

A public hearing was held before Monday night’s City Council meeting, July 24, to discuss the need for a water/sewer rate increase. Mayor Lee Posey tabled an ordinance that was on the agenda for a final vote until the Aug. 14 meeting. He said there’s a problem with misinformation and he wanted to make sure everyone had the facts before the Council casts its final vote.

Since the rededication of the Water and Sewer Sales Tax in March 2016 (for streets, drainage, water line replacement and recreation improvements) the City found out it has a lot of things that need to be addressed.

Separate from this tax dedication is the water/sewer operation and maintenance fund which covers salaries, equipment, day-to-day operations, chemicals and more.

This is where the City has been losing money. The funds are supposed to be self sufficient. The City kept water and sewer rates low until it could renegotiate electrical rates so an increase in water/sewer rates wouldn’t be so painful.

“We never intended those rates to stay as low as they were,” said Posey. “It had nothing to do with the money we rededicated toward the Sports Park.”

The big thing everyone is talking about is the Sports Park and Posey said they’re not taking that money.

“We’re going to bond out the Sports Park,” he said. “We plan on taking a portion of the money we transferred over to pay off the bonds, however long that takes. It’s not like we’re going to deplete that account. We still need money to do this next round of street projects and there’s still more drainage to do.”

Projects include:
New master lift station for $3 million
New intake structure at Sibley Lake, Shorter route to get water to East Natchitoches to improve water quality for $200,000
Replacing water lines on 16 streets for $280,000
Revamping three parks across town for around $700,000
Cleaning sludge out of Chaplain’s Lake for $300,000

“We’re going to do all these projects with the money we have in hand,” said Posey. “I think we’re doing this in a fair way but we’ve got to go up on these rates. The things you see us doing now are the things other cities have already done. We’re just trying to catch up.”

Council member Eddie Harrington said while most people thought the $18 million in reserve when the tax was rededicated was meant for the Sports Park, the money was split up. $9 million went toward water and sewer improvements and $9 million went toward streets and recreation improvements (recreation included the Sports Park, but only a small percent was to go to it).

Community members are worried about paying more money when a lot of people live on fixed incomes, however Posey said because of the reductions in the utility rates, the amount people are paying for the increase will balance out.

“Our rates are still 40 years behind the times,” said Harrington. “We have to look at the big picture. We can’t just keep patching these cast iron pipes that are crumbling and falling apart.”

Community member Johnny Barnes said fear just kicks in when people hear the word “increase.” At the end of the day, the number one thing this leads to is economic development.

Other agenda items included:
Change zoning classification of lot at 615 Amulet Street from R-2 Residential to B-3 Commercial for Larry and Rose Petite to operate a flea market business
Aquire three lots and a tract of land on the East side of Jefferson Street near Fort St. Jean Baptiste
Aquire 1 acre of ground from Michael Ray Bowen
Approve lease agreement between the City and Marie and Cody Lacaze for the placement of an omnidirectional approach light and utility line
Advertise and accept bids for five 72.5 KV dead tank gas circuit breakers
Enter into a cooperative agreement with the LA Dept. of Veterans Affairs to support the cost to operate and maintain the Natchitoches Parish Veterans Service Office