McComb selectmen on Tuesday followed through on plans to increase various fees for utility services.
Board members approved a 2.3% increase in the water rate and an increase in the sewer rate to 142.5% of the water rate. They also approved an increase from $20 to $50 to reconnect service and a new $1 fee for printing a second water bill.
Board members discussed the water rate and reconnect fee extensively over the past month, but only added the sewer rate to the discussions after some selectmen questioned whether the city implemented previously approved water and sewer rate increases to support the payback of state loans that financed the replacement of Water Well No. 5 and the Northwest Interceptor sewer upgrade project.
“The city took appropriate steps to cover the cost of (the projects) ... but nobody followed through year to year,” Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said.
He provided copies of the water rate study conducted by Neel-Schaffer engineering firm that was presented in 2016 before construction on the projects began.
The study called for a three-year process of increasing water and sewer rates, with an increase of the sewer rate to 124% of the water rate in fiscal year 2017, a 2.3% increase in the water rate and an increase of the sewer rate to 133% of the water rate in 2018, and an increase of the sewer rate to 142.5% of the water rate in 2019.
The discussion of the water and sewer rates over the past few weeks led to broad agreement among the board members and a unanimous vote, including Selectman Donovan Hill attending the meeting by phone.
Discussion of the reconnection fee was more contentious, with Selectman Michael Cameron questioning the math of late fees and reconnection fees in the budget. The budget line item for late fees is estimated at $140,000, while the reconnection fee line item is estimated at just $3,000.
With about 1,000 customers playing late fees each month after the due date on the 15th, and 280 paying reconnection fees after the 26th of each month, the city collects about $5,000 per month in late fees and $5,600 per month in reconnection fees.
Lockley explained that Public Works Director Alice Barnes clarified that all of those fees should be included in the same line item, as well as $20 lockdown fees that are charged on the 10th of the ensuing month if utility bills, late fees and reconnection fees are not yet paid.
That was discussed at last week’s work session, from which Cameron was absent.
Cameron complained that the lockdown fee had not been mentioned in any of the prior discussions about the rates and fees, and questioned why the city should disconnect water service and then give customers 10 more days before meters are locked.
“I think Mr. Cameron is saying we should lock the meters on the 27th,” Selectman Ronnie Brock said. “I’ve been told we don’t have enough damn locks.”
City staff told the board there were 67 locks installed last month.
“It’s like Christmas. You know (the water bill) is coming,” Cameron said. “The city needs to expect to have its money to provide water.”
The meeting agenda proposed the $45 reconnection discussed in last week’s work session, but Cameron moved to make the fee $50 and install meter locks on the 27th of the month, as applicable, and was seconded by Selectman Devante Johnson.
Brock moved to amend Cameron’s motion to include the $1 printing fee for extra bills.
“And add extra police downstairs during our next meeting,” Cameron quipped, seeing the possibility of irate citizens attending.
The motion and its amendment passed unanimously.
In other business, the board postponed consideration of a salary for the next comptroller.
The agenda asked the board to authorize City Administrator Dirkland Smith to negotiate a salary not to exceed $55,000, but Smith asked the board to skip the item.
Lockley said the authorization would be necessary because the position was advertised at $45,000.
The position has been vacant since Nov. 1, when Sevetrius Dillon left to become human resources director for the city of Natchez.
The city hired South Pike graduate and Houston resident Daphne Green to perform some comptroller functions, including reconciling of accounts, until a comptroller is in place.
Green is working with Meridian auditor Tommy Lindley to get city financial records in order so a financial statement can be produced and the city’s fiscal year 2018 audit can be completed. The audit is a year behind schedule.