Thursday, July 30, 2009
Water system expansion in works
By SUE WATSON
The Holly Springs Board of Aldermen held public hearings on two water projects that will provide potable drinking water to the communities of Marianna, Red Banks and Victoria.
The two projects, estimated to cost over $5.5 million, include the construction of a 300,000-gallon water tank and treatment plant, a 1,000 gallon per minute well and a distribution line beside Holly Springs’ new north bypass road. About 18.2 miles of water line will extend from the system to Marianna, South Red Banks Road, Chulahoma Road and side roads.
In addition, the system will back up the Holly Springs water supply, according to Don Hollingsworth, public works director. The tank and well are estimated to cost $2.5 million to build, while the water lines and meters are estimated to cost $3.1 million to install.
He said a public meeting will be held at the Chulahoma Community Center after the project is approved, where households can sign up for a meter for a fee of $15 during sign-up time.
If the person’s credit is excellent or above, the meter deposit will be returned after two years, he said.
Those who do not take advantage of the initial sign-up for meters will have to pay a contractor $300 to come back and install a meter, Hollingworth said.
For those individuals who have their own water well, they can sign up for a meter at $15 during the free enrollment period and pay about $10.25 a month to have the meter available to hook up to later if they want it. If a person uses water, the cost of water will be about $2.20 per 1,000 gallons or about 0.002 cents a gallon.
Hollingsworth recognized George Zinn III, Marshall County District 4 supervisor, for helping push the project through by assisting with door-to-door surveys.
In other business the board of aldermen recognized Yakisha Thompson and Belinda McDonald for graduating from deputy clerk and clerk certification training. The program takes three years to finish and candidates are tested on the course material and must pass it to obtain certification.
Deputy clerk Connie Mason is already certified.
Aldermen and the mayor discussed repairs of historic Hill Crest Cemetery after a brief discussion of damage to the front gate post.
Alderman Garrie Colhoun suggested to Mayor Andre’ DeBerry that the posts and gates to the cemetery on South Center Street be repaired.
DeBerry asked the board to approve advertising for a contractor to clean and repair about 100 grave markers in the historic section, funded through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
He said about $20,000 would be spent to install a kiosk in the northwest corner at Center Street.
Board attorney Ki Jones asked whether the fence could be finished out on the south end of the cemetery on South Center Street to make the appearance consistent throughout that side. Some grading and sodding is also in order, he said.
DeBerry said the scope of the work in the grant is narrow and will pay for the restoration of some grave markers in the historic section of individuals whose stature raised them to rememberance - Sen. Hiram Revels, the Yellow Fever Martyrs, generals of the Union Army and Confederacy, etc.
The board approved advertising for a contractor.
The board heard concerns of John Collins, general manager of the utility department.
Collins asked the board to deduct $1,613 from the claim from G.S. Trucking and Landscape Services for damage done when the contractor cleaned up a lot on Rising Star.
Collins said the damage done to a gas line and loss of natural gas from a leak that was not reported by the contractor should be deducted from his invoice. The board approved the request to deduct the money from the invoice. The contractor will be paid $386.
Collins then asked the board to write off nearly $200,000 in delinquent utility bills that have amassed since 2008. He urged the aldermen and mayor to work on a solution to a long-standing problem the utility has had with those who do not keep faith and promise to assume a payment plan for delinquent utility bills.
Collins said some individuals take advantage of the utility over and over by playing a game of sincerity and then not keeping their promises to pay their current bill and some amount on the outstanding bill.
Since the utility started turning over delinquent bills to a collection agency some old bills are being collected, according to accountant D. Miller and Collins.
The collections company is very efficient in collecting delinquent accounts if received within 60 days, she said. When bills get older than that, the likelihood of collection diminishes, Miller said.
“There are a lot of games played,” Collins said, including closing the account when the bill gets very large and past due and opening a new account in another person’s name at the address.
“We try our best to work with the customer, but there are those who play the game, run up a bill for $1,000-plus and then they are gone,” he said. “We need to deal with people on a 30-day (due) bill who are struggling to pay a current bill.”
Collins said the utility is sensitive and sensible in dealing with people on a 30-day bill who are struggling to pay a current one.
“But we have reached a point where we will have to turn them off,” he said. “We have a lot of repeats (customers who continually get behind on a bill).”
Alderman Harvey Payne asked if some of those customers could have energy audits done on their residences to see if there is a problem of inefficient heating and cooling (air leaks around windows, doors, and in floors).
Collins said the utility cannot force a homeowner who rents to improve energy efficiency.
DeBerry said a long-term solution is needed - one in which the city applies for home renovation grants or one to create an energy assistance program.
Collins said if a reputable non-profit could be worked with, the utility could let paying customers donate $1 a month to help someone else.
DeBerry said the utility is a business struggling to be a good steward but business proficient.
“If people are not consistent in keeping their word, we have to cut them off,” Collins said. “We are at a point where we have to start collecting.”
DeBerry said the nearly $200,000 in delinquent bills are “a significant hit. We have to go into our reserves to subsidize,” he said. “TVA requires you to have a certain amount of money in reserve.”
“When you write off $200,000, somebody is getting something free,” said alderman Russell Johnson, who expressed consternation at one delinquent bill that came to about $5,000.
Collins said the last three months the delinquency figure has jumped by $30,000.
“If we do an agreement and they don't keep it, we have to cut them off,” he said.
DeBerry said it is hard to cut off power when there are children in the household and when the weather is extremely hot or cold.
“If they call, 99.9 percent of the time we try to work with people and give an extension,” he said. “These guys are running a $20 million business and it lives or dies on its receipts just like any other business.”
People who are having problems paying their utility bill should call the mayor's office and ask for help, he said.
With that, the board approved a write-off of $195,358.67 at the utility department.
Other incidentals at the meeting included a statement by Hollingsworth that West Boundary Extension is ready for soil cement to be worked in.
The blue reflectors in the middle of streets downtown were placed by the Holly Springs Fire Department. The reflectors help firefighters locate fireplugs at night as well as in daylight.
Blue arrows placed on the surface of some roads by the utility department help meter readers locate water and gas meters that have been lost in high grass or weeds. And in some rural areas there reflective markers have been placed by fire hydrants to make them visible to service workers.
The utility is working to get discrete identification numbers and GIS locations of all gas, water, electric meters and sewers, according to Collins.
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