The Hattiesburg City Council held a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss two citizen petitions opposing the council's latest funding plan to update the city's wastewater treatment system.
The council approved a resolution in February to issue water and sewer bonds up to $60 million dollars to pay for Hattiesburg's new treatment system, but citizens filed two petitions against both the general obligation bond and combined water and sewer system revenue bonds.
“The general obligation bond required approximately 1,500 signatures, but the water and sewer revenue bond required 20 percent of the electorate or approximate 5,000 signatures of registered voters," Council President Kim Bradley said. "They did not receive that. We adopted the resolution that acknowledged that they did not have the 5,000 signatures. The other one was not due until 5 o’clock this evening. They possibly have the 1,500, but what the clerk has do is go through the list of people, confirm that they are registered voters here.”
Bradley said the city was always planning to pay for a new treatment system, whether that was a land application wastewater spray field or a mechanical system, by increasing water use rates.
“Either way, I think from the beginning though we were planning on the water and sewer revenue," he said. "That’s how we’re going to pay for the treatment system. It’s not going to be through millage or any special taxes. It’s going to be through use, and that’s the people. The people are the users.”
He said city engineers are already trying to find the best way to implement a new use fee so individuals don't see a large water rate increase.
"It’s going to be the 3,000 and plus gallons that people use," Bradley said. "That’s where the rates are going to increase. Minimum bill is going to go up some. We’re going to grow the number of minimum bills when we go and do the apartment ordinance where we don’t just have one minimum bill at an apartment complex. Each apartment would be responsible for a minimum bill, so you have more users. You spread it out over more people. That way it will be, have less impact on individual families and individual people. We’ve seen some rate increases over the last few years. That had to do with infrastructure improvements (like) all the work you see in the water and sewer lines throughout the city, but this is about treatment. We’re selling water. We’re taking the water back, and we’re treating it. So, yeah, it’s a use fee. If you’re using our water and you’re using our sewer treatment system, they’re the people. The users are the ones that are going to pay for it.”
Bradley said he thinks the idea of a land application system, more than potential rate increases, spurred the petitions.
“I believe a large part of it, the particular people in charge were opposed to the land app system," he said. "They think that that’s the wrong way to go, that they would like to see a mechanical system built, but again, I mean, just say the cost were the same. To close those lagoons would be another $35 or $40 million, and that just runs the cost of that other project, the mechanical project, just through the roof. The council has moved in the direction of a land app system, and that’s what we’ve targeted now to do. Hopefully in a month we’ll be able to pull that trigger, move on and start construction.”
Bradley said the $60 million dollars is needed regardless of the type of treatment system.
"We’ve got to have money to begin to work, to begin to do the job. In the land app system, it has to do with acquiring the land. It has to do with acquiring the project, the plans for the project. If it’s a mechanical system, we’ve got to start infrastructure building roads in there to the site, so that we can build the site. All of that takes money, and that’s what the purpose of this initial $60 million is.”