An easy hike: PRCUA considers rate hike plan that may miss most ratepayers

Published 10:22 am Friday, December 18, 2015

The Pearl River County Utility Authority Board got its first look at what a rate hike for water and sewer customers could look like Thursday.

At the regular meeting, Executive Director Ray Scott presented the board with a rate hike proposal that would leave the majority of ratepayers feeling nothing at all.

“We’re not talking about raising the minimums on most customers,” he said.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In other words, most customers who use 3,000 gallons of water or 3,000 gallons of sewer service will see no change in their bills. One exception are customers in the Hide-A-Way Lake area, because their bills are lower than average already they would be brought up to regular service rates.

But for the most part, a rate hike could be painless for most.

“About 75 percent of the customers will not be affected by the rate increase in the city of Picayune,” said Scott. “They’re below the minimum gallon usage.”

If a household exceeds the minimum gallon usage, the rate hike would go up .50 cents per 1,000 gallons. Currently customers pay $2.50 per 1,000 additional gallons on water and sewer usage, and if Scott’s proposed hike goes into effect, that number would be $3.

“You’re only going to be impacted by a dollar a month if you use 5,000 gallons,” Scott said. “You’re not going to be highly impacted, unless you’re a high user.”

The rate hike comes amid large, costly sewer repairs in the Picayune area. The PRCUA is expecting to pay for more repairs in coming years and Scott explained that the PRCUA board asked an outside agency to audit the utility provider to see whether it needed to raise rates to keep up with projected expenses.

“The Mississippi Rural Water Association and the USDA recommended having a water rate study every few years,” he said. “The last one was in 2012 and at that point in time we recommended doing another one in 2014. The reason it was so short a time is, at that time we hadn’t had a lot of operational experience.”

In other words, the board, as well the personnel, could not properly understand the operational costs. Those costs are clearer now.

“We’re doing a significant amount of work on our infrastructure,” he said. “And we have more to do. And this deterioration of the system didn’t happen over the last three years or the last five years. This happened over the last 50 or 60 years. And if we don’t do (the repairs), when it’s in the condition it’s in now, we’ll have much worse repair problems.”

The board did not take any action on Scott’s proposal, but next year the board is expected to set a date for a public hearing.

“We’ll be required to have a public hearing and once a public hearing is done, then we can decide, yes we want to accept what’s being recommended or move on,” said board President James Sones.

In other news, the board approved a construction progress update for the Picayune wastewater rehabilitation project, the engineer’s monthly report, an emergency management plan for the public water system, some sewer adjustment requests and the board approved letting PRCUA engineer Brooks Wallace submit a plan for a state loan for future projects.

The plan will not commit the utility to borrowing money, but the state’s deadline for submissions is Jan. 15.

The next PRCUA board meeting will be Jan. 21. The board meets at their office on Neal Road at 2 p.m.