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Louisiana parish water rates doubling next month

December 22, 2004
By Mary Swerczek
River Parishes bureau

St. Charles Parish residents will receive higher water bills starting next month.

The Parish Council on Monday raised water rates effective Jan. 1, but turned down a proposed increase in garbage rates and postponed voting on a proposed recycling rate increase. All three fees, along with sewer rates, are levied monthly on water bills.

The average water bill will increase by about $4.80 per month, parish officials said.

Parish President Albert Laque had proposed all three fee increases, saying the current rates aren't high enough to pay for the services, thus forcing the parish to subsidize the services with money from the general fund.

After a lengthy discussion, the council voted to double the minimum rate for water use on every bill from $2 to $4 and to increase the price per thousand gallons from $1.75 to $2.15 each month.

Waterworks Director Robert Brou urged the council to approve the fee increase. He said there hadn't been any increase in water fees since 1995 and no substantive increase since the 1980s.

The average family uses about 7,000 gallons of water monthly, which beginning next month would cost $19.05 instead of the current $14.25, Brou said. Brou said that the people who council members are most worried about affecting -- the elderly and those on fixed incomes -- wouldn't use enough water to raise their rates much.

Councilman Barry Minnich said the fee increase is long overdue.

"It'll be a whole lot more expensive later on if we don't do it now," he said.

But several council members suggested looking for other financing sources to stave off a rate increase.

Councilman Richard "Dickie" Duhe suggested putting a fee on developers of new subdivisions. Clayton "Snookie" Faucheux suggested asking voters to approve an ad valorem tax to pay for water and wastewater needs.

Some council members asked Laque to find other areas of the budget to cut instead of raising fees. In four budget hearings in October and November, the council had cut the proposed 2005 budget enough to make up the $1.4 million needed to offset the water rate increase.

But, in the end, a split council voted down the budget, wiping out the changes.

On Monday, Faucheux suggested instituting one of those lost amendments, moving to the waterworks budget $1 million now budgeted to convert the old jail atop the Parish Courthouse in Hahnville into office space.

But Chief Administrative Officer Tim Vial pointed out that only Laque can make such a budget amendment.

Councilwoman April Black asked Laque to return with an amendment to cut the new vehicles and new hires from the budget.

The council voted for the rate increase 6-3, with Minnich, Ganesier 'Ram' Ramchandran, Duhe, Black, Lance Marino and Brian Fabre supporting it, and Faucheux, Derryl Walls and Desmond Hilaire against it.

The council voted down the proposed garbage rate increase 8-1, with only Duhe supporting it.

Laque had proposed raising the rate from $11.43 to $13.22 per house per month.

"You're not (charging) enough to pay the bills," Finance Director Lorrie Toups told the council, adding that the parish has subsidized the garbage fund in the past.

The council discussed saving money by offering garbage collection once a week instead of twice, but Vial said previous studies into that possibility determined it would save only about a dollar per house each month.

The council tabled the proposed increase in recycling fees. The rate would have jumped 10 cents a month, from $1.77 to $1.87 per bin per household.

"That is exactly what we pay the vendor," Toups said. "So, the parish is not making a profit."

Destrehan resident Kathleen Campo, chairwoman of a recently formed citizens committee on recycling, told the council the group is split about whether to support rate increases effective Jan. 1, although it agrees that residents should pay for the service. The committee and Fabre are working to get a better rate.

Fabre said BFI, which has the parish's recycling contract, would offer a better rate if council members amended the month-to-month contract to make it a three- or five-year contract. He called raising the fee now "premature."

"I can't see doing something right now," he said.

The council voted 7-2 to table the ordinance, with Black and Faucheux voting against it.

Mary Swerczek can be reached at mswerczek@timespicayune.com or (985) 652-0959.