Aldermen OK rate increase to fund infrastructure improvements

Staff Writer

Starkville citizens will soon see slight increases to their water and sewer bills to fund much-needed infrastructure improvements following a vote by the Starkville Board of Aldermen Tuesday night.

The board voted 6-1 to increase the rates, with the additional funds going toward infrastructure upgrades. Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Adlerman Roy A’. Perkins was the sole opposition vote. The increases will become effective Sept. 1, and includes a 99-cent increase to the city’s variable water rate, bringing it to $3.25, which would impact every additional 1,000 gallons used after the base amount. The base rate for water services remains at $4, while sewer has increased by 50 cents to $4. Funds raised will be put toward water and sewer improvements focusing first on Pleasant Acres, then the Green Oaks and Rolling Hills neighborhoods.

Funds will also be put toward sewage lagoon management at the city's wastewater treatment facility.

The vote came after a discussion with Mississippi State University assistant extension professor Jason Barrett and Starkville Utilities General Manager Terry Kemp.

“The average (for different communities studied) is a $7.04 base fee, so as you can see, based on our $4 base fee, we’re 43 percent below that average,” Barrett said. “Going with our per thousand, we’re at $2.26, again same towns. Their variable rate, the only ones lower are Ridgeland and Brandon.”

Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk emphasized the importance of water and sewer services and the funds the city stood to gain from the increase.

“We have several things going on,” Sistrunk said. “We finished fiscal year 17 with $600,000 in cash in water and sewer bonds. We are not growing that number by any means, so we say that’s a reasonable amount for us to have spent. Once we’ve spent that, it’s depleted and gone until we replace it, which we have no margin for ever, because as Dr. Barrett pointed out, we are functioning at a loss. Last year was as close to a break-even point as we had, but generally, we’re functioning at a loss.”

Barrett said up to 30 percent of customers might even see a decrease in their utility bills under the new rate system, and those who saw an increase would not see too drastic of a rise.

“As of right now, if you just have an active water meter and get sewer collected from your home, you could be charged $7.50,” Barrett said. “That’s $4 for water and $3.50 for sewer. That’s just for an active meter and you haven’t done anything yet. The Mayor and Alderman Sistrunk’s discussion is leaving that base at $4, but having instead of just zeroes, moving it to 1,000 gallons.”

Barrett also showed some potential increases from raising the price a certain amount, including raising the base by $1 generating $122,000 in potential revenue and increasing the water variable rate by to $2.51 cents, generating $273,000 annually.

“I’m very excited that we were able to accomplish two things, which is to be very forward-thinking about our infrastructure and also at the same time, acknowledge the fixed income of people who are not as well able to afford a rate increase by giving them perhaps a small decrease in their rates, while we are still moving forward with water and sewer, as well as the lagoon,” said Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill. “It’s a big night for us.”

Aldermen also denied a request by Oktibbeha County for variance relief from the city's sidewalk ordinance for a proposed safe room built mostly with federal grant money at the corner of Lynn Lane and Industrial Park Road.