By Cain Madden/NEMS Daily Journal
SALTILLO – A population boom of 40 percent over the past decade made this city one of the state’s fastest growing, but that growth has brought its share of challenges.
Chief among them is that improvements in Saltillo’s infrastructure – streets, water, sewerage and drainage – haven’t kept up with the rapid influx of new residents, and the city is having to catch up.
While the growth is welcome in the city of just under 5,000 residents, “Obviously, the more demand you put on anything, the more strain you will have,” said Mayor Bill Williams. “This rapid growth has strained our infrastructure.”
The past decade’s growth was on top of a similar percentage increase in population in the 1990s, so there have been no lags for the city to catch its breath.
Multiple infrastructure projects are in progress today, however, and others are in the conceptual or planning stages. At least one involves combining resources with other communities in north Lee County.
Here’s a look at the key areas Saltillo is attempting to address.
Discolored water, pipes constantly bursting and diminished water capacity are a few of the problems that have caused Saltillo to start an overhaul of its system, said Public Works Director Richard Feist.
Since 2007, 18,400 feet of water line has been replaced, much of it swapping old iron pipes with higher diameter PVC pipes.
“We are not just building for right now, this takes into account future growth,” Feist said. “We should be set for years.”
Fire Chief Mark Nowell has also worked with Feist and the Board of Aldermen to get more hydrants – every 1,000 feet – and valves installed every 2,000 feet. The valves will allow Public Works to have more control over what areas will lose water when working on a leak.
“If there is a fire during the time that a water line is broken, and Richard is working on a water line that is affecting four city blocks, I have a problem,” Nowell said.
The city is also hoping to purchase Turner Industrial Park’s water system from Lee County at a price of $700,000, which Feist said would put the city at 26 percent water capacity with 74 percent growth built in, including the current industrial customers.
Saltillo’s fire rating is currently at a Class 8, and Nowell said the goal of this phase is to bring it down to a Class 6.
Ratings are based on fire staffing and equipment, water capacity, building codes and communication ability. Improved ratings could help lower insurance premiums.
The wastewater treatment plant system was upgraded in 2007, and Williams anticipates that should cover the town for the next five to seven years. But with the system at 60 to 70 percent capacity, it’s already time to start thinking about the next expansion.
“The time clock on getting projects like this done is about five years,” Feist said. “You can’t let it wait until you need it. You have to be forward thinking.”
Funding has been secured for a feasibility study on a regional wastewater system that would serve all of north Lee County, including Guntown and Baldwyn. Feist said a regional wastewater system could pass on some savings to Saltillo residents with costs dispersed among a larger population base.
While the treatment plant has reserve capacity for now, Williams said there is still a problem in actually getting sewage to the plant.
“We do have some issues around town with our collection system, which consists of gravity sewer and pressure lines involving pumps,” Williams said. “The more pumps you have, the more costs you have and the more opportunities you have for equipment to fail.”
Since 2007, the city has spent $82,245 upgrading pressure systems and pumps, while it has spent $64,000 on gravity sewer systems.
Traffic issues are cropping up on Saltillo’s streets, in some instances beyond the inconvenience factor, such as Euclatubba Road, where accidents have led to deaths.
“I think we need some street improvements, before we lose more lives,” Alderman Mitchell Brazeal said. “We need to improve for both safety and for convenience.”
For May’s regular board meeting, Brazeal sought out renderings for road expansions on Euclatubba Road and Old Highway 45. For six years the city has tried to get outside help for the projects, Brazeal said.
“We have turned to MDOT, the county and the state, but it seems like all of them are strapped for cash,” Brazeal said. “We are to the point where we are going to have to do it ourselves.”
Brazeal said one idea would be to raise city tax millage, which currently stands at 27 mills.
“What I’d like to see put in is a thoroughfare (tax), like Tupelo has, that can only be applied to street improvements,” Brazeal said. “Tupelo has a 32 millage, and I’d like to see us around there.”
Brazeal said costs would depend on what citizens are willing to support, and he’d like to see work done in phases to spread the cost.
Brazeal would like the thoroughfare program to be up for a vote every five years, as Tupelo’s is. Saltillo’s board earlier this year passed a thoroughfare study proposal unanimously.
He said he anticipates something, though it may not be a millage increase, could be brought to a public forum in the coming months.
“You have to have transportation,” Brazeal said. “If people can’t get to and from their homes to their place of work or businesses in an easy manner, they will find somewhere else to live.”
According to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, most of Mississippi is in a flood zone.
Feist said since 2007, flooding in Saltillo homes has not been a problem, but before then it was.
“Back in 2004, six to eight homes in the Willow Creek area flooded,” Feist said. “In 2005, when Katrina hit, a few houses flooded.”
Before that, Feist said flooding would crop up on occasion, and if it rained two to three inches, while it wouldn’t get in a home, it was very noticeable.
Williams said some of the drainage problems could be placed on the town being lax on building codes, but since he has been in office in 2005, it has been one of his goals to assure that water is taken into account when a developer builds.
“We want to make sure that down the road, folks don’t have some of the draining problems we have seen in the past,” Williams said. “We look very hard on water issues on any development that is submitted to us.”
Feist also attributes some of the success to maintenance and expansion of the town’s ditches.
“Over the last four years, we have cleared out four and a half miles of ditches,” Feist said. “There are also eight different creeks that we have identified that have a stranglehold on the system, and we also have to keep those maintained and cleaned out to keep the water flowing.”
Feist said crews go out twice a year to maintain the ditches.
Contact Cain Madden at (662) 678-1582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.