Trial looks at water, sewer issues

Published 6:00 am Thursday, November 13, 2003

Brookhaven’s annexation trial resumed Wednesday with cityofficials discussing various proposed activities and objectorstrying to determine the financial impact of water and sewerimprovements on users.

Attorney Jerry Evans, who is representing several individualobjectors, was unsuccessful in getting City Engineer Carl Ray Furrto tell how user fees would be affected by $14 million in proposedwater and sewer improvements.

“You’re not going to come up with something in the future whenyou don’t know all the variables,” Furr said during crossexamination.

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Furr said variables would include the number of new customers,how the improvements would be funded, the work schedule and revenueexpected from the new customers. He indicated it was not unusual tonot have user fee cost projections.

To fund the work, Furr mentioned using revenue bond issues thatwould be paid back by user fee charges. He also said the city coulduse general obligation bonds, which could be paid back through theproperty tax levy, but added the city did not want to use thatmethod.

Furr also touted the city’s success in obtaining federaldiscretionary funds “above and beyond” programs like the state’sCommunity Development Block Grant. The engineer mentioned theWhitworth Fire Loop water project and the Multi-ModalTransportation Center as examples.

“The track record is there,” Furr said. “It’s been veryproductive for us.”

Furr said the city is fiscally able to do the project. He citedan east and west side water line project that was done about 10years ago in anticipation of annexation.

“The backbone is there,” Furr said.

In another water-related area, Furr described as normal a statehealth department report that showed the city’s drinking waterusage was at 75-80 percent of the city water system’s designcapacity. He said the city water supply was able to accommodate amajor industrial water user several years ago.

“I have no problem with it in that range,” Furr said.

The engineer added, though, that the usage level was one reasonfor adding a new well and elevated storage tank as part of watersystem improvements.

In other Wednesday court activity, Jim Weston, with the statehealth department, testified about failing sewer systems in theproposed annexation area. He estimated that 75 percent of thesystems in the area were failing, due in large part to the factthat the soil is not suitable for underground systems.

“The failure rate is tied closely to soil conditions,” Westonsaid.

Using photographs from various locations around the annexationarea, Weston discussed potential health hazards due to the failingsystems. Some pictures showed raw sewage on the ground after itcame directly from a home’s toilet or bathtub.

In general, Weston said, the best solution for addressing sewerproblems is a centralized collection and disposal system. He rankedhome-related sewer problems with agricultural waste among thestate’s most pressing concerns.

“Malfunctioning on-site waste collection systems are one of themost significant sources of pollution in Mississippi,” Westonsaid.

Under cross-examination, however, Weston acknowledged that hisreview yielded “exactly what he expected to find” in that a largeportion of the state’s population is not on centralized systems.While discussing alternative systems, he admitted that annexationis not the only way to address the sewer concerns.

Weston said the responsibility for allowing the failing sewercondition to exist fell somewhere between the state and theindividual. He said the health department handled sewer concerns ona complaint basis.

“Our current law doesn’t require the individual to get approvalof their system,” Weston said.

Weston, though, said he was proud of a sewer system ordinancepassed by the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors. The county law,set to take effect Jan. 1, prohibits utilities from connectingservices to private property without a health department permitcertifying that the sewage treatment system is adequate.

“That would reduce the number of new systems that are failing,”Weston said.

Street Department Superintendent James Griffin, TrafficSupervisor Jimmy Furlow and Water Department Superintendent LannyDickey testified Wednesday about their duties and operation inrelation to the proposed annexation. The trial was to continueThursday with testimony from other city department heads andannexation consultant Mike Slaughter.

Annexation attorney Jerry Mills said the city will be wrappingup its case Friday. Objectors could then start presenting theirside next week.