City Council tables utility rate increase to look for alternate solutions to fund raises for police, firemen

The Natchitoches City Council tabled an ordinance to implement a new rate schedule at its meeting on Jan. 9. What this new rate schedule means for more than half of city utility consumers is a $21 monthly increase, spread out across their water, electric, and sewer bills. Other average consumers should expect to see around a $30 monthly increase. These totals already include a $17 monthly increase for electric rates.

Council member-at-large Betty Sawyer Smith made the motion to table the ordinance until the city can do some further studying to see if the increase in the electric rates can be decreased. Smith said they came to a fair amount with the water rates and wants to do the same with the electric rates.

Director of the Utility Department Matt Anderson said the plan for the water funds is to rehab the existing water treatment plant. 

Working to solve some of these issues for a long time, the City is under an administrative order from the Louisiana Department of Health, and has satisfied five of the six requirements included in the order. The sixth one being to add capacity to the plant to rehab other parts of the plant. The City has until July of 2023 or they can be fined up to $3,000 per day. The deadline will be extended if the City can show it is actively working on the project (engineer hired, working on funding, then starting construction).

Rate studies showed that Natchitoches is below other, similar sized water districts. The question is, What rates are needed to fix the water plant?

When the project is complete the plant will be able to produce 10.5 million gallons of water a day (currently able to produce 8 million gallons a day). There’s a tiered system that will be implemented to increase the water rate while lessening the impact on those who are “less able to pay a water bill” and shift the cost over to those who are “more capable of paying a water bill.”

The City has found around $8 million in alternate grant funding to offset the $17 million water plant renovation project. 

The concern for a few attendees was the money being transferred out of the utility department to the general fund for city operations to the tune of $20 million over the last 3 years.

“If you’re going up on your utility rates, that’s almost like taxing the public to transfer more money out to run your city,” said former Natchitoches mayor Wayne McCullen. “Now is not the time to be adding extra burdens on the people of Natchitoches. 

He was adamantly in support of the increase in the water rates, but adamantly against the increase in the electric rates.

“We’re transferring too much money out to run the city and not focusing on the intent of what the money is for,” he added.

Natchitoches Police Cpt. Brad Walker, who is set to retire soon, said the real concern is what happens if the electric part of the rate increase isn’t passed, and police officers and firemen don’t get the raises they really need.

The monies from the increase in the electric rates would go toward funding officer pay raises at a proposed rate of $15 an hour.

Other agenda items included:

Proclamation Declaring Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

PLANNING & ZONING – INTRODUCTION:
Amend Ordinance No. 64 Of 2001 By Changing Zoning Classification Of Property Described As Follows: East ½ Of Lots 4 And 11, Block “A” Of Natchitoches South Subdivision And Lots 5 And 12, Block “A” Of Natchitoches South Subdivision (Hwy 3110)

ORDINANCES –  FINAL:
Extend The City Limits Of The City Of Natchitoches Annexing A 0.405 Acre, More Or Less, Tract Situated In Section 81, Township 9 North, Range 7 West, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, Said Tract Lying Adjacent To And South Of Louisiana Highway 6,  And Adjacent To The Existing Municipal Limits Of The City Of Natchitoches, And Further Providing For The Fixing Of A Public Hearing, Advertisement, Fixing Council District For Same, Fixing Zoning Classification And Providing For An Effective Date Of The Ordinance.
Amend And Reenact Section 8-1 Of Chapter 8 Of The Code Of Ordinances, Entitled Building And Building Regulations, Said Amendment Being Made To Adopt The 2021 International Property Maintenance Code, As The Official Building Maintenance Code Of The City Of Natchitoches, Louisiana, Providing For Advertising, Further Providing For Severability, And Further Providing For A Repealer And Effective Date Of Ordinance.
Award The Bid For HVAC Improvements At The Natchitoches Events Center  (NEC) (BID NO. 0653)
Award The Bid For HVAC Improvements At The Martin Luther King, Jr., Recreational Community Center (MLK) (BID NO. 0649)
Amend And Reenact Sections 30-18 And 30-42, Both Of Which Are Located In Article Iv Of Section 30 Of The Code Of Ordinances Of The City Of Natchitoches, Entitled “Utilities” Said Amendments Being Made To Implement Changes In New Rates For Electrical Service, And A New Rate Schedule For WaterUse Which New Rate Structure Has Been Proposed In A Electrical And Water Rate Study Prepared By Shuler Consulting Company, Providing For Advertising, Further Providing For Severability, And Further Providing For A Repealer.

ORDINANCES –  INTRODUCTION:
Provide For The Division Of The Current Position Of Purchasing And Human Resources Into Two Separate Positions, To Amend The Personnel Policies Manual To Provide For The New Position Of Human Resources In The Organizational Chart, Providing For Advertising, Further Providing For Severability, And Further Providing For A Repealer And Effective Date Of Ordinance.
Amend the 2022 – 2023 Budget To Reflect Additional Revenues and Expenditures.
Amend the 2022 – 2023 Budget To Reflect Additional Revenues and Expenditures.

RESOLUTIONS:
Execute Change Order No. 1 To The Contract Between The City Of Natchitoches And Aca Mechanical Industrial, LLC For HVAC Improvements At The Natchitoches Events Center (Bid No. 0653)
Execute Change Order No. 1 To The Contract Between The City Of Natchitoches And ACA Mechanical Industrial, LLC For HVAC Improvements At The Martin Luther King, Jr., Recreational Community Center (MLK)  (Bid No. 0649)
Advertise And Accept Bids For The Purchase Of A Bucket Truck For The City Of Natchitoches Utility Department (Bid No. 0656)
Approve The Contract Between The City Of Natchitoches And Motorola Solutions, Inc., For Acquisition Of Body Cameras And Car Video Systems Under A Piggy Back Contract And Authorizing The Mayor, Ronnie Williams, To Execute The Equipment Lease-Purchase Agreement With Motorola Solutions, Inc., And Any Other Documents Necessary And Proper In The Premises.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

The next scheduled City Council meeting will be Monday, Jan. 23.

The City of Natchitoches offices will be closed Monday, Jan. 16 in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.