Water, sewer will take time

By Emily LeCoz

By Emily Le Coz
Daily Journal
TUPELO – Some newly annexed residents could wait several years before benefiting from Tupelo’s most sought-after municipal services, namely water and sewer.
Some 2,500 residents and about two dozen businesses will enter the city limits after the Mississippi Supreme Court issues its final mandate on the annexation case it had upheld July 26. Although the ruling is final, the borders won’t officially move until late August or early September, said city attorney Guy Mitchell.
The actual go-date depends on when the court issues its mandate.
New residents immediately will benefit from police, fire and code protection, as well as brush removal and right-of-way maintenance. It will take an additional 30 days before they get twice-weekly garbage pickup and twice monthly recycling collection.
Water and sewer will take longer. The first improvement projects won’t start until April at the earliest; the last ones won’t end until mid-2015.
And that’s if all goes as planned.
Projects could stall for months or years depending on how quickly – or slowly – property owners sign easements granting Tupelo access to their land for water and sewer line installation.
The city ultimately could proceed through eminent domain, but Tupelo Water amp& Light Manager Johnny Timmons said he’d rather not consider that option.
The city also must negotiate with any utility currently providing services to the newly annexed areas. Most affected households and businesses receive water from North Lee County Rural Water Association and electricity from Tombigbee Electric Power Association.
Timmons said he doesn’t expect Tombigbee to relinquish any customers. TEPA Manager Bill Long didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
But Tupelo anticipates getting North Lee’s water rights to all the annexed properties and switching those customers from well water to surface water. Timmons said he’s had preliminary discussions with North Lee, but it’s unclear when the switch will occur.
North Lee Board President Ken Clemons said both parties need to meet and that nothing will happen without a board vote.
No one provides sewer services outside the city limits, so Tupelo can expand its operations without having to negotiate with anyone but the individual property owners.
But not everyone might get it. The city is required to provide services only when it’s economically feasible. Howard Davenport knows this. His North Gloster Street properties were annexed in 1989 and still aren’t connected to the municipal sewer line.
“They told me I was at the end of the line and it wasn’t economically feasible,” said Davenport, who owns Title Loans and All Star Cleaners. “But they have no problem taking my tax money.”
Timmons said Davenport likely will receive sewer services during the coming round of improvements because his properties abut a newly annexed area containing a number of households. It’s more economically feasible to connect numerous customers than just one, especially if that one requires a major investment, Timmons said.
It’ll cost an estimated $12.7 million to expand city sewer services to the annexed areas and $6.7 million for water services, according to an April services and facilities plan prepared by Cook Coggin Engineers.
Money will come from a State Revolving Fund loan reimbursed at 1.8 percent interest by Tupelo Water amp& Light, which generates its revenues from rate-paying customers.
None of the money will come from the city’s taxpayer-supported general fund budget.
The general fund will, however, support the expansion of other city services and cover their associated costs. Among them are additional street maintenance, police patrol and building inspections.
Costs won’t hit all at once, and many of them already have been factored into previous budgets, said city Chief Financial Officer Lynn Norris.
“We built the fire station, staffed it, and are paying operating costs, we’ve added new policemen over the years, we’ve beefed up the personnel budget” Norris said. “I think it’s the opinion that those costs are in there.”
Additional operations costs are expected to top $6 million in the next five years, according to the plan. Some of it will be offset by the additional $650,000 tax revenues Tupelo will generate from the annexed areas, none of which will be collected until early 2014. No tax increases or utility rate hikes will be needed to cover any of the costs, both Norris and Timmons said.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com