Mayor Williams held a Town Hall meeting Thursday, August 18 at the city council chambers concerning the city’s water and electrical infrastructure needs, as well as, the need to address paying for those needs. There was also discussion of city police, fire, and employee pay.
City Utility Director Matt Anderson gave a look into the city’s water treatment situation. The city presently has three water treatment plants. The oldest was built in 1961 and the most recent in 1995. The three plants operate in parallel and together can produce a maximum of 8 million gallons a day. The city is looking to build a fourth plant to take the strain off of the other three which are continuously operating at, or near, capacity. Operating a plant at capacity for a long period of time causes wear and maintenance problems and cannot be continued indefinitely. A fourth plant would also allow the third plant, built in 1995, to be taken offline and given much-needed repair. That is not possible now, due to all three plants being needed to satisfy the city’s need for water. The city has grown quite a bit since the plants were built in 1961, 1975, and 1995. The costs for supplies and equipment have also skyrocketed lately due to inflation. The city is on track to spend $1.7 million dollars on chemicals this year, up from $870,000.00 spent in 2017. The average user spent $18.50 per month on their water bill. A user in Wisner spent $67.50. A user spent $41.50 in Shreveport.
The cost of a fourth plant, along with the refit of plant number 3, would cost the city approximately $20,000,000.00. The fourth plant would add an additional 3,000,000 gallons per day to the city’s water supply. Director Anderson then showed a study of utility rates for water for Natchitoches and other areas around the state. Natchitoches was the 4th lowest in water cost. The charge for water has not been raised in years and aging facilities are running at a capacity far too often for the system’s good.
Former state representative, parish president, and electrical engineer Rick Nowlin gave a presentation on a rate study he performed for Natchitoches’ electric rates. Residents’ power bills have two components. The larger one by far, on average 2/3 of the total, is the PCA, or Power Cost Adjustment. This is the money that the city never sees. It goes to purchase the power purchased from Cleco. This amount fluctuates due to fuel costs. The other part is KWH or Kilowatt Hour, the charge the city has that is based on the amount of electricity you use each month. This rate is 2.7 cents per KWH and is, on average is 1/3rd of your bill. That rate has not been raised since 1993. Once again, Natchitoches is on the lower end of electric costs for consumers in Louisiana.
One area of great concern is the severe shrinkage of the utility reserve fund used to pay for emergencies and other unforeseen events. The fund stood at $10,000,000.00 several years ago and is now down to under a million dollars. That is potentially a catastrophic situation should another bad storm come our way.
Fire Chief Wynn and Police Chief Collins both spoke of the effect low salaries have had on their departments. The starting pay for a firefighter in Natchitoches is $8.00/hr and of a police officer $13.00 an hour. The police department has lost 138 employees since 2000 and the fire department has lost 78 firefighters since 1998, many due to higher pay elsewhere. Both departments have experienced increased call volumes over the years but are facing staff shortages.
Lastly, Clarissa Smith, City Director of Finance, spoke of similar problems in the city’s workforce in recruiting and retaining quality workers.
City Councilpersons Harrington and Smith were at the meeting, and both briefly expressed their support of the need to address the city’s aging infrastructure.
There will be two other town hall meetings to gather public input to be held September 15 at M.R. Weaver School and September 29 at First Baptist Church Amulet.
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