The Waveland Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Wednesday discussed assuming the responsibilities for some residents' grinder pumps and a deficit in the utility fund.
Alderman Bobby Richardson said that there are 64 city households still on grinder pumps.
"They currently pay the same bill as everyone else in the city and they are maintaining their own grinder system," Richardson said. "And at any time these grinder pumps go out, the system itself is over $2,000, and I'm trying to see if there's a way to do like Hancock County did years after the storm, they took over the maintenance on the system so they're (the residents) are not responsible. I just don't feel it's fair that they are still paying the same as everyone else in the city and coming up with $2,000 is not easy for people sometimes."
Mayor Mike Smith said that the city has looked at that possibility before.
"To do that, it was an additional $10 million," Smith said. "So it wasn't financially feasible for the city."
Smith said that taking on the grinder pumps is as "simple as getting an easement and taking ownership of those 64 grinder pumps."
"These residents are paying extra not just to replace the pump but also the electricity to run it," Smith said.
City attorney Malcolm Jones agreed with Smith and said the city would have to obtain easements and budget for maintenance costs, which is not always for replacement but repairs as well.
"Until the city can obtain grants or other sources of funding, you're going to have to try and look at maybe doing it in phases rather than tackling them all at one time," he said. "It is a big responsibility, because in addition to maintenance, and this is where the problem comes in, most homeowners don't do the maintenance that they should. And having the city take it up, they'll inspect it, check the flows, and do all kinds of things to try and avoid the accidental spills that affect the environment."
Smith said that as a result of the "Brown lawsuit, we're not breaking even in our utility department right now."
Alderman Jeremy Burke said his concern would be "owners' misuse."
Jones said there are ways to deal with that so as to not penalize residents who are doing things correctly.
"There are ways that the city can impose fines or surcharge fees for repairs when it appears that the maintenance is due to misuse," Jones said. "There are some ways to do this and it may include making some changes to the ordinance that you have. One thing that the mayor said that is important is that your water and sewer system is an enterprise fund. So from an accounting standpoint, what that means is that it can't run on a deficit. It's not intended that you are to supplement your enterprise fund with revenue from ad valorem."
City Clerk Mickey Lagasse said the city would also need to look into providing grinder pump training for its employees in the utility department.
"I think that we need to look at it as a whole pie," Smith said. "Because we changed the utility ordinance back in December of '16 to reduce the average costs to elder, fixed-income. So with that being said, and with the Brown lawsuit, if I can just say Brown lawsuit and can't go any further, between those two put us in that deficit. So we have to get to where we're back on steady ground and there are ways to do that. We're not trying to increase residential at all."
Smith said the changes to the bills in 2016 made it more "just."
"You had a section of people that were using less than 1,000 gallons a month being given 4,000 and charged $87.34," Smith said. "With our change, you didn't get any water fee, but you start out with a base amount of $54.34 at the time, now it's right at $55 and $5 per thousand of uses. So that same person that was paying $87 is now paying $60."
During public comment, Waveland resident Lana Noonan asked why the utility fund was in deficit.
Smith said that he "couldn't talk about it very much."
"The Brown lawsuit had caused us to change parts of our ordinance," he said. "Because of that lawsuit, we are not in the red so much that we're not good, but we're not in the black as a result of that lawsuit."
Smith said the lawsuit was filed about two years ago.
In other action:
Smith said that the MLK Park Community Center will be completed next week and is expected to be opened before Christmas.
The next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 3 at 6:30 p.m.