Water system discussed at Coffee with Mayor

Published 12:07 am Sunday, November 15, 2009

The City of Picayune is considering its options for upgrading water infrastructure.

That was only one of many issues discussed Friday morning at the Greater Picayune Area Chamber of Commerce’s Coffee with the Mayor. Other issues included paving East Canal Street, Chimney Square, the county lake project, the possibility of a new county court and property cleanup, just to name a few.

City officials are considering a number of long-term proposa;s to upgrade the water system. Picayune Mayor Ed Pinero hinted at the option of the Utility Authority but never mentioned any concrete plans. He did say that city officials first will work to find out how much it would cost to upgrade the system and then make plans from there.

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One practice with the utility department has changed, however, using utility fund profits to supplement the general fund.

“It’s been many years since the money in the utility fund has been put back in (the utility department),” Pinero said

The practice of using utility fund profits to supplement the general fund has ended, he said. Those funds are now being used to pay the staff that work on and administer that department.

Still, aging water lines will need to be repaired. Pinero said the city’s lines began being installed in the 1930s and 40s. Additions then took place about every five years up to the 1980s. He said the lines that are the oldest are actually holding up the best.

As for paving East Canal Street, that work is on hold to make sure that there are no water or sewer leaks, Pinero said. He said the city doesn’t want to do the work only to later find leaks and have to tear up the new road.

District VI County Supervisor Patrick Lee gave those attending the coffee an update on the expected completion of the new Chimney Square. So far, even with some weather related setbacks, the completion date looks to be on schedule for June of next year. Inside the building will be all of the offices now located in Carriere, including the Driver’s License office, tax office, permitting and county E-911 addressing.

Lee said with the population of the county increasing, the county will be mandated to have a county court by 2012, in addition to the current Justice, Chancery and Circuit courts. In anticipation of that mandate, Lee said the supervisors are considering implementing a county court office in the new Chimney Square. County Court would handle all misdemeanor crimes and would be expected to speed up the justice system by getting people out of jail faster, Lee said.

Lee said that recently the city and county governments have been working together instead of against each other.

“There used to always be a tension but now there is no tension there,” Lee said.

That cooperation helped move one project forward, the county lake project. That project has been in the works for years but finally moved to the next step. Last week it was sent to public notice, Lee said. He said that was achieved with some help from Rep. Gene Taylor and Sen. Roger Wicker and the team work between the city and county helped. Lee said when a project moves to public notice, that means it most will likely become a reality.

To consolidate services better when Chimney Square does reopen, officials are considering putting all county and city permitting in the same office. Pinero said thatwhen Chimney Square opens, it makes sense to consolidate since the county and city permitting offices will be only blocks away from each other. Lee concurred, saying that without the historical power struggles between the city and county there is no reason to have separate permitting offices.

There would still be a permitting office in Poplarville if that decision is approved.

City council member Wayne Gouguet said the city has taken a strong stance in cleaning up dilapidated properties, possibly to the council’s detriment.

“We might have to get us a bullet proof vest pretty soon,” Gouguet said.

Pinero said the cleanup efforts in the city and county look for yards that are not maintained and for burned and dilapidated homes.

County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said he did not make a big deal about the most recent tropical storm to make landfall on the Gulf Coast, Ida, because weather predictions showed there were too many factors working against it to pose a real threat. Those factors included the cold water in the Gulf at the time and opposing fronts. Those factors diminished its power to wind speeds of about 30 miles per hour.

During the question and answer session, attendees asked about the status of the recently burned Mississippi Mall, annexation of the airport, widening of U.S. 11 in front of the new hospital’s proposed location and about county storm shelters.

Pinero said the Mississippi Mall is caught up in federal and insurance bureaucracy. He said the city is still working with FEMA to attempt to collect promised funds as well as working with the insurance agency to collect money from the fire.

Gouguet said the city is considering annexing the airport, and that annexation would not pose a threat to surrounding landowners. He said if the plan goes forward, then for about $8,000 in survey fees the city would stand to collect about $20,000 in additional taxes. Annexation also would allow city police officers to patrol the airport.

“We should have done it a long time ago probably,” Gouguet said.

Lee said the county has been approved for about $5.2 million in funding to have the Mississippi Department of Transportation widen U.S. 11 where construction of the hospital is planned. Highland Community Hospital Interim CEO Doug Jones, who was at the meeting, assured both city and county officials that the hospital will be built.

“It’s gonna happen,” Jones said.

Manley addressed the question about the storm shelters. He said he has suggested to county officials that they strengthen existing structures instead of building new ones. If they built a new building, that building could be used only as a shelter, while making an existing building stronger would allow that building to be used more than once every 30 to 50 years.