Still much work to do on water, sewer

Published 10:44 am Wednesday, April 6, 2016

People who live in the city limits have certain expectations of what will be provided in exchange for their tax dollars — police and fire protection, road maintenance, sewer and water service.

But that’s not how it works. When Brookhaven annexed parts of Lincoln County in 2007, those new city residents had similar expectations and some have been unhappy with the speed at which water and sewer service has been provided.

But water and sewer service is not a tax-based service, it’s a fee-based service. That means people who don’t currently have sewer and water service from the city aren’t paying for that service. Their city property taxes go to things like police and fire protection and road maintenance, among other things.

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“There is a misconception about that,” said Ward 6 Alderman David Phillips said in 2014. “People think that if they pay their taxes they should get water and sewer also. It’s a fee-based system. By law it has to be completely self-sustaining, so if you are not receiving water and sewer from the city then you are not paying for it.”

In other words, public water and sewer systems are funded by residents paying water and sewer bills, not by paying property taxes.

But it’s understandable that city residents expect to have those services provided by the city. They were told those services would come when the annexation took place. Brookhaven has made progress in providing those services, but it’s been slow.

A quick search of the newspaper’s archives turned up dozens of stories about annexation and water and sewer service. Residents have been complaining since 2007.

Phillips said the city simply wasn’t in a position to make the kind of investment necessary to provide those services in the years immediately following the annexation.

“It’s time that we have to reach out and provide the services that were guaranteed to these areas,” he said. “There has never been a cheaper time to fund anything in my lifetime.”

He’s right. And the city should make good on those guarantees. Much work has been done already and is currently being done, but there’s plenty more to do.