Jackson’s water rate increases are a must as part of consent decree renegotiations

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JACKSON, Mississippi (WLBT) – The proposed increases in water and sewer rates for Jackson customers could take effect early next year if city council approves them in December.

Orders to increase water and sewer rates are expected to be presented at the council meeting on Tuesday, November 23.

The ordinances will likely be rolled over until the next meeting and voted on at that time, according to city officials.

If the measures are approved, they would go into effect in 30 days, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said.

According to the administration’s proposal, sewer rates would drop from $ 4.47 per hundred cubic feet (CCF) to $ 5.36 per CCF. Water would drop from $ 3.21 per CCF to $ 3.85.

CCF is 748 gallons of water.

The increases are proposed to help fund needs under Jackson’s $ 950 million sewer consent order.

Lumumba says they are the first of what will likely be several rate increases planned in the coming years to help cover the costs of the executive order.

The administration is expected to introduce a tariff structure plan in the spring.

Chokwe Antar Lumumba

“One of the things that we do recognize is … the city and the EPA have probably always recognized … that the original consent decree, or the one we have pending now, is that there is no not had much discussion of how it would be funded, ”he said.

“Our water, our sanitation, our paid services … because we have not touched it for years, besides the fact that we have not succeeded in collecting at a sufficient rate what we charge, all this leads to to the need that we look at this now.

The mayor said all changes were made in collaboration with his decree consultants and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The city signed the executive order with the US Department of Justice and the EPA in 2013.

At the time, Jackson agreed to spend around $ 400 million to bring his sewage system into compliance with federal water quality law. Jackson was given 17.5 years to complete the job.

Since then, the costs of the Orders in Council have more than doubled, while Jackson’s financial situation has deteriorated.

Over the past decade, the capital’s population has fallen by 20,000, from 173,514 in the 2010 census to 153,701 in the 2020 census.

On top of this problem, Jackson struggled to collect his water and sewer revenues, thanks to complications with the Siemens contract.

Jackson hired Siemens USA in 2012 or 2013 to install a new billing system.

The approximately $ 90 million contract included the replacement of some 65,000 new water meters, the installation of new billing software at the city’s billing office and the establishment of a network of repeaters. and transmitters to allow meters to communicate directly with the billing office.

The system never worked, and a few years ago the city’s corporate water and sewer fund almost went bankrupt.

The problems persist to this day. In May, the city reported that some 8,000 customers were not receiving regular statements, while 14,000 were not making regular payments.

“The only way our collections are going to improve is to change the counters and put something much more reliable in them,” he said.

Utility Metering Solutions is currently installing new commercial meters in the city and will eventually replace all residential meters installed as part of the Siemens work.

Lumumba said billing issues will not go away completely until subcontractors complete the replacements, and work will not be completed until at least early 2023.

Lumumba’s team has been working to resolve billing and metering issues for as long as their administration has been struggling to change the terms of the consent decree.

These efforts have focused on extending the time to meet the requirements of the decree, while developing a plan to pay for the works.

Burns & McDonnell, the consultants on Jackson’s Consent Order, recently introduced proposed changes to the EPA, which would include implementing a rate hike in the coming weeks and putting in place a structure tariff to increase water and sewer tariffs in the future.

“What we did through the consultant was recommend a rate hike. The first hike we agreed to is this 20 percent hike,” the city attorney said. , Catoria Martin, at Monday’s council working session. “From there, what the EPA is forcing us to do is a rate structure plan. You will come back and vote on this next March.”

Martin told the council the increase would represent an increase of about $ 10 for an average family of four.

Based on a family of four using the USGS estimate of 80 gallons of water per person per day, water rates would drop from $ 41.18 per month to $ 49.40, while sewer charges would drop from $ 57.35 to $ 68.76 per month.

Meanwhile, the consent decree itself could be extended to give the city more time to come into compliance.

“A lot of our time has been spent on how we perceive the tariffs we have,” Lumumba said. “And so that’s where we’ve been in the last few years … Now that we see the end of the tunnel … we’ve done the homework to look at affordability, average household income in Jackson and relocate.” with us the place where other cities have been for years.

Copyright 2021 WLBT. All rights reserved.


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