Rate change possible to fund water infrastructure improvements

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver (left) listens as Starkville Utilities General Manager Terry Kemp discusses infrastructure issues on Thursday (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
SDN Editor

Roughly a dozen people, including officials and media, attended a public discussion at the Starkville Sportsplex regarding issues with, and potential changes to, the Starkville Utilities water system.

The meeting was prompted by several Green Oaks residents who complained of discoloration of their water, along with a bad taste and smell.

Robert McNair has lived in Green Oaks for two years with his family and said the problems with their drinking water began six to eight months ago when they started to notice cloudy water coming from the faucet.

“It was just kind of intermittent, like today it’s not quite as cloudy and not quite as bad a taste,” McNair said.

When the problems became persistent, McNair took to the mobile app Nextdoor, a social media platform geared toward private neighborhood groups.

McNair was met with several others who cited similar issues. At the meeting on Thursday night, he told city officials he had a list of 11 different streets with water issues that were compiled from just one of his postings on Nextdoor.

“We’ve been buying bottled water because of it,” McNair said. “My daughter won’t even use the ice we have in the refrigerator because she says it has a bad taste.”

City officials confirm Green Oaks, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, to be one of the places with the most issues regarding water and sewage. Pleasant Acres also came up multiple times as an area in need of infrastructure improvements.

Representatives from Starkville Utilities gave a brief explanation of the water system infrastructure to those in attendance but much of the conversation centered on what the next steps will be in fixing issues for neighborhoods like Green Oaks and Pleasant Acres.

POTENTIAL RATE CHANGES

City officials at the meeting all agreed that changes to funding will be necessary to overhaul the city’s aging water and sewer infrastructure.

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Mayor Lynn Spruill both attended the meeting and both mentioned how a project on this scale would “necessitate” a rate change.

As it currently stands, Starkville Utilities customers who use at or less than 1,000 gallons of water per billing cycle are charged $7.50 as a base rate. The customer then incurs incremental charges of $2.26 for every additional 1,000 gallons used.

Carver said he would support a rate change, and along with Spruill, discussed the potential for a lower base rate, such as $6.50, with higher incremental costs after the customer goes over 1,000 gallons a billing cycle.

The only possible increase discussed was potentially bumping up the fee per extra 1,000 gallons to $3 from the current $2.26.

Spruill said if instituted, few would see a noticeable impact on their utility bill and would be encouraged to save money and conserve water usage with a lower base rate.

“(The potential rate changes) are not astronomical, but it makes a difference when you have 12,000 customers,” Spruill said, referring to the potential funds that could be raised for infrastructure improvements to water and sewage systems.

Carver told the Starkville Daily News the issue of addressing water and sewer infrastructure has been on the Board of Aldermen’s radar for some time, but has often taken a back seat to other issues above ground.

“Of the last three terms I’ve been on the board, this board has been by far the most aggressive on this particular item,” Carver said. “Different capital improvement projects have been funded in various years and as it goes on this is something that was on the back burner.”

McNair, who brought a water sample from his home to the meeting, supported the idea of a rate change, saying he would gladly pay a little bit more if the water quality improved as a result of his investment as a utility customer.

“If it’s another $5-$10, me personally, I have no problem with that if it gets us to a point where everybody can have water they can drink,” McNair said.

According to Starkville Utilities General Manager Terry Kemp, if the city moves forward with changes to Green Oaks to improve its water service, the city would have from 40,000 to 50,000 feet of sewer and water lines to address.

“We can say we probably should have started 10 -15 years ago (on improvements), but we don’t need to wait another 10-15 years to get started,” Kemp said.

Spruill then said work on pre-planned phases of neighborhoods like Green Oaks would be performed by contractors if the project gets the green light, so Starkville Utilities employees would be free to work on maintenance issues and problems with failing infrastructure in other areas of the city.

Spruill, Carver and other city officials all thought the meeting served as a good start for driving the dialogue about potential changes to infrastructure in the city limits.

“We’re going to have lots of these as we will roll this out, and obviously it’s hard to do three people at a time,” Spruill said of the meeting, which was attended by only a few Green Oaks residents.

Spruill hopes to roll out the concept at the city’s next work session for the Board of Aldermen on June 15.

“Hopefully, we will have something the board will accept and that most people can be comfortable with that they are going to get something positive out of it,” Spruill said.

Following the meeting, Carver reiterated the need for a rate change if the city is going to follow through on major infrastructure projects.

“While I’m conservative in nature, this is something that the money is not going into a black hole and you’re actually going to see return on investment according to their department.”

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