January 5, 2012 12:34:00 PM
CALEDONIA -- Residents of Caledonia can breathe a sigh of relief -- for now. A new sewer rate structure is in the works, but the Board of Aldermen voted unanimously Tuesday night to wait until $637,000 in state revolving funds are made available or until June 1, whichever comes first.
Under the proposed rate structure, residential customers will pay a sewer rate equal to 50 percent of their water bills, and commercial customers will pay a sewer rate that is 100 percent of their water bills.
The town has 1,940 water/sewer customers, with the average residential bill totaling $28.50, according to Caledonia Water Superintendent Benny Coleman.
The last time sewer rates were raised was in 1992, when they increased from $3.60 to $6.60.
However, Town Engineer Stanley Spradling told the aldermen there's no other option to meet the demands of the Public Service Commission as well as complete the first part of a $1.6 million multiphase plan to run a pipe from the water treatment plant to the Buttahatchie River and meet environmental standards required by the state Department of Environmental Quality.
"You are going to have to have this rate increase," Spradling said. "This needs to go forward pretty quickly."
The board approved a water rate increase in July but rescinded it in September after being told by the Public Service Commission that adopting the proposed structure, which would have increased the flat water rate to $7.25 per 1,000 gallons, would mean the water rates would subsidize the sewer system.
"They said people outside (the city limits) are the reason you can keep the (water) rates so low," Board Attorney Jeff Smith explained.
Coleman disagreed with the commission's assertion but agreed that raising sewer rates should satisfy the Public Service Commission's requirements.
"Somebody's going to have to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with the Public Service Commission," Smith said.
In a separate sewer project, aldermen voted 4-1 to accept Columbus-based Perma Corp.'s bid of $122,107.89 to install a pumping station and sewer line to extend sewer service. The town has already received a $100,000 state grant for the project, but Coleman estimates it could cost an additional $25,000 to $30,000.
The project will benefit three residential customers and the Shop and Save grocery store, leading Alderman Quinn Parham to wonder how those four customers could pay enough in sewer rates to offset the cost.
"Maybe I'm looking at it wrong," Parham said. "I'm looking at four customers versus $30,000."
Spradling said by that logic, the project was never financially feasible. However, the pumping station will be able to serve up to 50 additional sewer customers.
Parham cast the lone vote against the measure.
In other matters, the board:
n Approved the purchase of 15,000 color maps to promote the town. Southern Engineering in Corinth will produce the maps to be distributed in the area at a cost of $300.
"Most people who come up here to get them are lost," Mayor George Gerhart joked.
n Voted 4-1 to rent a storage facility for Christmas and Caledonia Day decorations. Parham voted against the measure, saying he believes it would be more cost-effective for the town to build its own storage facility or purchase one rather than renting.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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