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Jackson, MS water rate hiked 24%, sewer 3%

By Laura Hipp
September 8, 2004

Car Care Clinics in Jackson, MS will need to add more money in their utility budgets for next year.

Brian Romine, area manager, estimates higher water and sewer rates approved by the City Council on Tuesday will cost the business more than $4,000 extra a year.

"I could understand a three or five percent increase," Romine said. "But 24 percent? That's a chunk of change."

The council boosted the water rate 24 percent and the sewer rate 3 percent to fund state-mandated repairs to the J.H. Fewell water treatment plant and expand the O.B. Curtis water treatment plant. The rate hike will go into effect the next fiscal year, which begins October 1.

The average Jackson bimonthly water bill will increase from $74.80 to $84.60.

Though the city is not raising the millage rate, Jackson residents also may be hit by a Hinds County property tax increase. Supervisors are considering a one to two mill increase to fund higher insurance costs and mandated pay raises for themselves and other elected leaders.

The water and sewer rates adopted were the best option city staff presented, said Council President Leslie B. McLemore.

"We have to respond to the mandate," McLemore said. "Politically, we are going to take some heat, but that's why we're in these positions."

The state Department of Environmental Quality ordered the city to stop dumping sludge from the Fewell plant into the Pearl River by Dec. 31, 2005.

If they don't fix it, DEQ will fine Jackson $25,000 each day the problem persists.

So, officials plan to double the capacity of the Curtis plant while reducing the water produced by the Fewell plant, which is more than 100 years old. The total project costs $73.2 million.

"We do require and demand clean drinking water," McLemore said.

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes, who cast the only vote opposing the hike, has expressed concern about those living on fixed incomes.

Many elderly struggle to pay their bills, Stokes said.

Some social service agencies are expecting calls for help from those who can't pay their bill, though not all will have money to help.

"I understand about this horrific infrastructure," said Ada Miller Robinson, family development director at Operation Shoestring. "Our seniors don't care. They have to pay a bill and want water."

The charity received a $12,000 federal grant in February to help pay 60 percent of residents' bills, but the funds were spent several weeks ago.

She could not estimate how many received help.

Operation Shoestring will not receive funding for the program until February 2005, she said, unless folks donate to the cause.

Low-income residents also can turn to the Hinds County Human Resource Agency for some assistance.

But they must participate in evaluations, which include employment assistance, household budget review and other programs, said Robert Morton, vice president of community programs and services.

Applicants must show the ability to pay the next month's bill before receiving help, he said.

The program receives a federal grant, but Morton did not know how much. About 10,000 to 12,000 residents receive utility, education or housing assistance in a year, he said.