Rate hikes for utilities approved in Sulphur

Published 12:47 pm Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Sulphur City Council approved rate increases for utilities and the capital improvement fee at its Monday meeting, and Public Works Director Austin Abrams gave a breakdown of costs of major repairs and improvements to the city’s water and wastewater system from 2018 to present.

City of Sulphur water will go from $26.40 to $27.90, a $1.50 increase. Sewer will go from $29.75 to $32.65, a $2.90 increase and the capital recovery fee will go from $1.35 to $1.45, a ten cent increase, according to Jennifer Thorn, finance director. The total increase is $5.75.

Nick Nezat voted no to all increases. Melinda Hardy voted no to the increase for water. Joy Abshire, Dru Ellender and Mandy Thomas voted yes to each increase.

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“Well, I voted based on the voice of my constituents,” said Melinda Hardy in a phone conversation after the vote. “I have received calls about the increases from constituents and most don’t understand its a bundled package per se. It includes water, but also sewer and trash pick up.  There are some variables I believe we can’t control, but the water consumption is always an issue.”

Her concern is the flat rate charged for water. She wants to see users charged in a more equitable way, for their consumption, just as they are charged for other utilities such as electricity and gas. Not increasing the flat rate, however, doesn’t level the playing field for folks, she said.

“I am very optimistic that yes, we will get water meters because the dialogue is open. There is movement toward it. We are seeking the funds for metters and having a study done,” she said.

Danahay said the study is necessary to obtain a loan, a portion of which will be forgivable, for getting each property on a meter.

In response to questions raised by the public at the April meeting and a question about the UV system refurbishment at the May meeting,, Nichols summarized water and wastewater repairs since 2018. The City has added a $2 million gallon ground storage tank, $3 million pressure filters at the Verdine water plant. Water Well #12 was constructed for $646,846. Water Well #13,  for $1.6 million. #13  replaces #3 that collapsed in 2019, according to Nichols.

North Water (Gradney) Treatment’s pressure filters will be replaced for $3.6 million, and the estimated completion date for that is July 2024. Water lines, pipes, connections and pumps are reaching the end of service and will cost around $5.6 million to replace.

Sulphur regional wastewater treatment facility capital projects will cost in the 10s of millions of dollars.

City administration welcomes visits to explain financial details.

“We have come a long way since 2018,” said Mayor Mike Danahay about improvements, repairs and money spent on the water and wastewater systems.. “We’re still not there. We’re looking for that zero balance number, and as I said at the last meeting, we are currently taking money from our general fund to our public utility. So, we’re gonna continue to do what we have to do.

Nichols said some of the most recent work on the systems increased the PSI, which could account for some of the sediment being stirred up and discoloring water. The Louisiana Department of Health gave Sulphur an A for its 2023 water grade.

Hardy announced that Care Help turns 40 this month and the event will be celebrated with a carnival on Saturday, May 18, 10 p.m. to 1 p.m. at 200 N. Huntington St. in Sulphur. Enjoy music, games, hot dogs, hamburgers, snow cones, cotton candy, ice cream, door prizes and special store savings.