UA could take over 2 sewer systems

Published 4:38 pm Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Waste water systems at the Wildwood and Round Rock subdivisions could become part of the Pearl River County Utility Authority, if the Public Service Commission decides that would be the best course of action.

A public hearing was held on Tuesday to give residents of those subdivisions a chance to hear a planned course of action and also to allow them to share their comments on the proposed change.

The problem is the sewer systems at both subdivisions could reach capacity soon as more homes are added, prompting a need for improvements to allow both systems to discharge treated waste water, as it must if the subdivisions grow to capacity.

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Utility Authority Engineer Brooks Wallace testified during Tuesday’s hearing that the systems, neither of which are currently discharging any waste water, will need upgrades or improvements in order to allow those subdivisions to build on all lots. While Wallace did not say how soon those systems would need upgrades, he did say the system with the largest potential expense for upgrading would be Wildwood’s, which would need an aerator and irrigation lines to discharge to a drip field, for a total estimated expense of about $210,000.

If that cost was assessed to just that subdivision’s current 87 customers, then the cost to make those improvements would add about $8.83 per customer per month to current sewage bills for a period of 10 years.

Utility Authority Executive Director Jeff McClain said that if the Utility Authority took ownership of the two systems, the agency may still have to charge residents of the two subdivisions an additional $8 to fund the improvements. However, he also said the cost to make the needed improvements could be subsidized by the Utility Authority’s ability to set money aside under its current rate structure, leading to an increase of only $1.75 per month. McClain said the Utility Authority has a rate structure and customer base capable of operating facilities it owns while allowing the agency to set money aside for capital improvements.

If the Utility Authority is awarded ownership of the sewer systems, then residents of those subdivisions may have to pay only the rates now set forth by the Utility Authority, but that promise was not made at the hearing. Currently customers in Wildwood subdivision pay a flat rate of $22.50 for sewer usage and about $12 for metered water usage. The Utility Authority charges $24.25 for the first 4,000 gallons of waste water usage, and $2.50 for each additional 1,000 gallons. Water service would remain under the company currently providing that service.

However, some residents of the two subdivisions expressed concern about the increased expense for sewage that might come from watering their lawns since the Utility Authority would charge sewer rates based on water meter readings, a water usage which would push them over 4,000 gallons of use. Water used for lawn irrigation is not treated at sewage facilities. Randal Gholson, a resident of one of the affected subdivisions, said he estimates his bill under the Utility Authority rate structure would increase by as much as $15 a month.

Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz said currently the customers in those subdivisions pay a flat rate for sewer usage, even though they have water meters. All county residents can purchase an additional water meter to handle lawn watering, Bentz said. The Utility Authority is seeking ownership only of the sewer systems, not of the water systems.

McClain said the Utility Authority currently handles about 8,000 sewer and water connections, most of which are sewer connections, and the agency employs 13 people with a collective sewage experience of 40 years. Customers of the Utility Authority also have access to an emergency line 24 hours a day, seven days a week to report problems.

“I think the residents of Round Rock and Wildwood can feel comfortable if the system was owned by us,” McClain said. Bentz said the Public Service Commission most likely will decide what to do with those systems at its next meeting, set for June 22. He would not say at press time what he expected the decision to be.