Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, left, listens as Starkville Utilities Director Terry Kemp talks about the city's water and sewage infrastructure at a Thursday meeting. The meeting, held at the Sportsplex, covered a range of issues related to water quality. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
June 8, 2018 11:09:49 AM
The city of Starkville has turned an eye toward major improvements to aging water and sewage lines in certain areas of the city.
City officials are still working to come up with a plan to tackle what would be a significant undertaking in replacing infrastructure for whole neighborhoods.
Starkville Utilities Director Terry Kemp told a handful of people from the Green Oaks neighborhood who attended a Thursday evening water quality meeting at the Sportsplex that the city's infrastructure, which in some areas is more than 50 years old, has served the area well. However, he said, it's past time to consider replacing it. That would include replacing aging metal pipes, which have contributed to brown water issues across the city, with PVC pipes.
"I guess we can say that we probably should've started infrastructure improvements 10 or 15 years ago," Kemp said. "But I think the commitment right now is let's not wait another 15 years to get this started because it'll take years."
As an example, he said there are 40,000-50,000 feet of sewer lines and at least that much in water lines in Green Oaks, which might necessitate breaking up infrastructure replacements into several phases of work.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said the infrastructure work will be a long process and the city will likely have to contract out the work to keep the utilities department from getting bogged down. She said the utilities department is compiling a list of the areas with the most severe infrastructure needs, and the city will work on areas in that order.
Right now, she said, that would likely see work on the Pleasant Acres neighborhood first, then Green Oaks, and then other areas such as Rolling Hills or Plantation Homes.
Spruill added that, while the city is still in the preliminary stages of considerations for it, work will require some sort of water rate increase. Nothing is set, but Spruill said the city has started looking at some options to generate more revenue to cover the costs of water infrastructure replacement.
There are a few ways to go about that, Spruill said, including adjustments to charging for water based on use. Right now, she said, Starkville Utilities customers get 0-1,000 gallons of water for a flat $7.50 rate. One possibility that's being floated, she said, is lowering that base rate to $6.50 and increasing the amount charged per thousand gallons over the initial 1,000.
"Right now it's $2.26 (per thousand gallons)," she said. "If we go up to $3 per thousand, then very few of us are going to feel a whole lot of that over a period of time but it will raise a good amount of money for us to do these infrastructure improvements.
"I don't want to be unclear about it," she added. "We are looking at rate increases. They're not astronomical, but they make a difference when you have 12,000 customers."
Robert McNair, a Green Oaks resident said he understood that it'd take more to help pay for the infrastructure improvements. He said if the increase is reasonable, he didn't oppose it.
"Our bill is somewhere between $15 or $20 to $25," he said. "That's not so bad. If it's $25-30 to get something like this done, I have no problem with that."
But McNair also expressed concern for how a rate increase might impact those who don't have much extra money to spare, such as senior citizens living on fixed income.
Whatever the city does, Spruill said, she wants it to be fair and to accommodate those who can't pay much more.
"We haven't settled on anything yet, but initially we're looking at making it as possible for people who have less usage and are on fixed income because those are likely the ones who are using 1,000 or less," she said. "We may raise it to 1,500 or less, or something along those lines, and allow those like me, with a sprinkler system that just sprays water everywhere to pay more because I'm using more."
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, who attended the meeting, said he agreed that it was past time to replace the aging pipes.
"I thought it was sometime probably in the 80s or 90s, to be honest, with the system we have now," Carver said. "Obviously, when you go from steel and clay pipes and replace them with PVC pipes the quality is improved just from the manufacturing process."
Spruill also said the city wants to be smart about replacing infrastructure. She said she'd prefer to do it at one time so the work is done, rather than having to go in multiple times and disrupt people's lives repeatedly.
"Nobody wants their yard torn up," she said. "Nobody wants their street torn up. We'll be mindful of that, but it's just one of those things that has to be done."
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