Years of low water rates trickling down for bill increase

By Carolyn Parson
For the Monroe Journal
ABERDEEN – Mayor Cecil Belle announced Feb. 5 the inevitable increase of water rates for Aberdeen customers during the board of aldermen’s regular-called meeting. A rate increase went into effect Feb. 1 to counteract a $463,000 deficit for the water and waste water department that will seen on the next utility bill.
“The rates haven’t changed in more than 10 years. The city has been reluctant to raise the rates in past years and administrations since citizens have been under a financial crunch from increases in taxes, cable fees and electricity bills. We have carried on with one of the lowest rates in the state for so long, but it finally caught up with us,” said City clerk Jackie Benson in an interview after the meeting.
In September 2012, the board approved a water rates study that concluded that existing rates couldn’t sustain the operations of the department.
Benson stressed mismanagement didn’t play a factor in the water department’s debt the water department is currently facing. She also reiterated the city is not facing bankruptcy because of the department’s deficit.
Deteriorating infrastructures cost the city money in employee overtime and Aberdeen’s water system is roughly a century old.
“We’ve had several unexpected emergency repairs that are an unbudgeted cost. The price of materials for these repairs and for chemicals to treat our waste water system have drastically increased and that’s really hurt us financially too,” Benson said.
As with most cities, Aberdeen depends on grants to help fund the addition of new wells and to maintain the current system, but the city hasn’t been in the running for certain grants due to the lower water rates.
“An increase in water rates will increase our chances of receiving grant money,” Belle said.
The city has considered adding another well along with repairs on the current wells for a few years now.
“I just want people to be prepared. It may look big, but its what it should have been for a long time,” said city attorney Dudley Williams.
In other business, the board considered more costly permits for outside food vendors coming into town on the weekend.
Local business owner, Jeff Doty, stressed these vendors take away from the business of local merchants who contribute to the city’s sales tax.
“These vendors come and pay about $20 for a vendor permit and sell their food for cash and the city doesn’t even get the benefit of profiting from the sales tax which local businesses are paying,” Doty said.
Ward 5 alderman John Allen stated Tuscaloosa, Ala., had the same problems until the city implemented a $200 permit that lasted two weeks for food vendors. Mississippi has a $250 per year transient food vendor permit and the board is looking into following suit.
News Editor Ray Van Dusen contributed to this story.

About Ray Van Dusen

I've been with the Monroe Journal since Aug. 2009 as a staff writer, but took the role as news editor in late 2012. I'm always looking for interesting story ideas from around Monroe County. You can reach me via email at ray.vandusen@journalinc.com.