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An Open Letter to Petal Citizens:
As many of you are already aware, the City of Petal has filed suit in Forrest County Chancery Court against the City of Hattiesburg over Hattiesburg’s attempt to arbitrarily and dramatically increase the rate it charges Petal for wastewater treatment at its South Lagoon. If Hattiesburg were to have its way, citizens of Petal could see their water and sewer bills more than double, something we feel is unacceptable and in violation of our longstanding partnership with the City of Hattiesburg in the treatment of our city’s wastewater.
However, we would be negligent if we did not begin to prepare for some level of increase in the rate we will pay for wastewater treatment. While we are confident in our case against the unreasonable demand made by Hattiesburg, we are also aware that some level of increase is likely to occur. Additionally, there will be legal fees associated with the suit. While we anticipate these fees will only equal about the same amount that Hattiesburg is currently over-charging us per month, and therefore a good investment, they must be paid from the water and sewer fund by law. Therefore, the Board of Aldermen and I have reluctantly agreed that we must take the step of increasing our water and sewer rates in the upcoming fiscal year.
In order to ease the burden on our elderly residents who may live alone, we are structuring our increase in water rates by lowering the minimum bill from 3,000 gallons of usage to 2,000. This means that anyone using less than 2,000 gallons will not see any increase in the water portion of their bill. For those using more than 2,000 gallons, they will pay $3.00 more per month for water.
We are restoring the amount paid for basic sewer service to a flat rate of $25 per month, the amount paid by customers before we lowered it by $3.00 four years ago. Much of this money is used to pay the interest and debt on the $15 million bond issue that was passed during a previous city administration, with the remainder used for infrastructure maintenance and repair. We are also looking at available options to refinance this debt in order to lower interest rates and reduce our payments.
For sewer treatment, we are increasing the payment by $3 per month, to a flat rate of $9.00. We must charge a flat rate instead of by usage, due to the fact that a good portion of our residents are customers of Barrontown and Sunrise Utility Associations. Because we do not have data available on the number of gallons of water used by these customers, we must charge a flat rate to all citizens. We hope to reach an agreement with these utility associations on the sharing of such data, so that we can adopt a usage fee system in the future. We are also pursuing the possibility of privatizing solid waste collection, which we hope will result in a lower garbage fee that will help to offset some of the above increases.
All of these changes in our rates add up to an additional $9.00 per month for most residential customers who are serviced by the City of Petal for both water and sewer. Citizens who are on other water systems, or who are on our system but do not use more than 2,000 gallons of water per month, will pay for the additional sewer charges only, which come to $6.00 more per month. Commercial customers who have a metered account will pay slightly different amounts, based on the number of gallons used.
We know that raising rates is never a popular thing. We, too, pay for water and sewer services. However, it has been six years since the last increase in rates. The power company, cable company, and other utilities have all raised rates during that same time period, some even increasing yearly due to rising costs. We are unanimously of the opinion that the rising costs; the likelihood of an increase in treatment charges from the City of Hattiesburg; as well as the necessary legal costs to prevent these rates from rising almost 800% as Hattiesburg is demanding, make this increase a necessity at this time.
We will hold a public hearing on our budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, including the proposed changes in water and sewer rates, on Tuesday, September 3rd, at 5:30 p.m. in the board room at City Hall. We welcome any questions or comments.
Thank you for allowing us to serve the City of Petal. We each take our responsibilities very seriously, and we promise you that we will do all we can to maintain Petal as a safe and affordable place to live and to do business.
Mayor Hal Marx
Alderman Brad Amacker
Alderman Craig Bullock
Alderman David Clayton
Alderman Tony Ducker
Alderman William King
Alderman James Runnels
Alderman Steve Stringer
I would like to explain, more completely, the accurate story of what the city is doing regarding the 3-D School and our senior citizen programs.
The facilities on South George Street have been used by the 3-D School, the senior programs and the Just Over the Rainbow Theater for about five years. Prior to the opening of that facility, the senior citizens were provided meals and programs at the Petal Civic Center.
The 3-D School has operated on the second floor of the main building, along with the front lobby area of the theater. After five years, the school has outgrown that space and needs to expand. The school has a waiting list of children needing its unique services, but simply cannot meet their needs due to lack of space. At least 17 families have moved to Petal from other areas over the past five years so that their children could attend the 3-D School. More families are planning to relocate here, provided the school can expand and serve their kids. The school is important to Petal, not only for what it does for the children who attend, but for the growth and promotion of our city.
Currently, our senior program at the South George Street facility serves about 35 to 40 seniors daily. Most of those come for the meal program that serves a hot lunch each day, and breakfast once a week. In the afternoons, after the meal, average attendance dwindles to about 8 to 10 people. The City of Petal spends about $172,000 yearly on this senior program. That comes out to about $4,300 per person served by the program. The fact of the matter is, the building at South George is too large and expensive to maintain for the number of people who utilize the program.
So, the Board of Aldermen and I discussed our options and decided that we could find a way to continue to serve our senior citizens, help the 3-D School remain in Petal, and save the city money. By relocating the senior citizen program back to the Civic Center and leasing the South George Street facility to the 3-D School, the city will automatically save about $25,000 yearly. In a tight budget, that might mean an employee keeps their job, or that we can replace an aging police car. The senior citizens will get the same services, meals and programs they have enjoyed, simply at a different location. The 3-D School will be able to expand, teach more children the skills they need to be successful, and remain in the City of Petal for years to come. This option really is a win-win-win for all sides.
On July 1st, Alderman Craig Bullock and I went to the senior center and informed those in attendance of our plans. We answered questions and explained the purpose of our decision. Everyone there seemed to understand our motives and agreed to give the move a try. We promised them that after a period of time, if the Civic Center was not meeting their needs, we would look at other options.
The next day, at our regular meeting and with the public in attendance, the Board of Aldermen voted 5-2 in favor of leasing the South George Street facilities to the 3-D School. We are now in the process of transitioning the senior programs back to the Civic Center, where they were housed until five years ago. Meals will continue to be served, our bus will continue to provide transportation to those seniors who use it, and our senior citizens will continue to have a place to go to socialize, play games, and have the companionship of friends.
The City of Petal remains committed to our senior citizens, our children, and our taxpayers. We will continue to find ways to stretch our tax dollars to provide needed services to our community. That is what we were elected to do.
Mayor Hal Marx
It has been awhile since my last blog post. In the wake of the February 10 tornado, I got away from regularly updating readers of the issues and events affecting our city. With a new term of office about to begin, I intend to get back to regularly posting on this website, to better keep you informed of what is happening in the Friendly City.
I am excited about the possibilities for Petal as we start this new term and as we welcome two new members to the board of aldermen. I have known both Brad Amacker and William King for many years. I believe both men will do a fine job for our city in their new roles. I look forward to working with them, and with the rest of our board members, as we face a variety of important issues over the next four years.
Some of the issues we know that we must address include the sewer issue with the City of Hattiesburg, our own decaying sewer and water lines, aging streets, and persistent drainage problems throughout Petal. Other decisions that we must make will shape the future of commercial growth along the Evelyn Gandy Parkway, and how we cooperate regionally to bring new businesses and jobs to our city. Our budget, as always, will be tight, and we face the looming threat of higher insurance costs for city employees due to Obamacare taking effect.
Our task might sometimes be daunting, but I am confident that Petal will continue to grow and prosper. I thank each of you who voted for me for giving me the opportunity to continue as mayor of my hometown. With your support and your prayers, we can work together to make Petal an even better place to live and raise a family.
Inaugural Ceremonies for the Mayor and Board of Aldermen will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 1, at the Petal Civic Center. The public is invited to attend.
I have always been proud to be from Petal, but no more so than over the past three days. Sometimes, the worst events bring out the best in a community. That is the case for Petal following the horrific damage brought by Sunday’s tornado. Neighbors who normally don’t have time to speak have come to each other’s aid. Our churches have organized volunteer efforts to go into the affected neighborhoods, offering whatever help is needed. We have the seen a true community spirit come alive.
God’s hand was over so many people on Sunday evening, that is the only way to explain how we did not suffer one lost life. To see homes totally destroyed, as if hit directly by a bomb, and to know that a family was inside at the time, but that all walked away – a miracle is all I can say. We can and will rebuild our city, buildings can be replaced. I am just thankful that no lives were lost, because that is what is irreplaceable.
Our work is just beginning. Over the next few weeks, you will see crews removing debris from the side of roads. Please try to stack the debris as close to the road as possible. FEMA regulations will not allow us to collect debris more than 5 feet from the road. We will undertake this effort as quickly as possible, but due to the volume of debris, we anticipate a three to four week operation.
Also, FEMA is now in our area, but we have not been told when or where they will be setting up for disaster relief information and assistance. As soon as we get that information, we will pass it along via this website or other media.