Progress being made in annexed area’s water and sewage systems

In 2005 the Brookhaven Board of Alderman began the process of annexing parts of Lincoln County tripling the size of the town from seven square miles to about 23 square miles. Former Mayor Bob Massingill said back in 2007 when the annexation was completed, that it was necessary to keep the city fiscally viable. At the time, it had been decades since the last annexation and the population of Brookhaven was under 10,000. The annexation increased the population by about 3,000 people, which is more appealing to new industry and business as well as allowing room for further expansion.

The annexation came with the promise of expanding city services including fire protection, police services, parks, road maintenance, solid waste and water and sewer expansion to annexed areas. With the hiring of more police officers and firemen, officials were able to cover the safety in new areas, but water and sewer services have appeared to remain stagnant despite the newly added city taxes for the adopted areas.

“There is a misconception about that,” said Ward 6 Alderman David Phillips. “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.”

The areas were officially annexed in 2007 and over the past seven years the monumental task of providing water and sewer services has been passed down from previous mayors and aldermen and now rests on the shoulders of Mayor Joe Cox and alderman Randy Belcher, Terry Bates, Mary Wilson, Karen Sullivan, Shirley Estes, Flecher Grice and David Phillips.

“We just felt like the city was not in the position to indebt the taxpayers to do the work at that time and to cause any more hardship,” said Phillips referring to the economic crisis of 2007 and 2008. “It’s time that we have to reach out and provide the services that were guaranteed to these areas. There has never been a cheaper time to fund anything in my lifetime.”

With the current board and financial stability the skeptical question of if Brookhaven elected officials would follow through with the promise of clean water and reliable sewage has been replaced with when will the services be expanded.

“The misconception is that we have all this money coming in (from the annexed area property taxes) and we’re not doing anything for them, but we are. People think there is just a big pot of money sitting there but that’s just not the case,” said Mayor Joe Cox. “This is the hand we’re dealt and now we’re dealing with it. The economy is not perfect but it’s a lot better and now we need to fulfill those obligations.”

Officials stated that now that the national economy has had an upturn with increased stability and low interest rates it is time for the city to finance the construction and installation of water and sewer services. Over the past six years there has been $1.7 million (averaging $283,333 a year) of prep work such as surveying and designs that has been done with matching grants in the annexed area and another $1.7 million has been approved for the near future.

Phillips said that he feels that the board has underfunded water and sewer services because no one wanted to raise anyone’s water rates. He said when that happens all that you’re doing is running around patching things. “We have to fund it enough to maintain it,” said Phillips.

To help pay for the project, water and sewer prices went up $1.50 as of Oct. 1st. Cox said that he feels that it is a stable enough economic time that he can ask the tax payers to help provide the clean water to their neighbors. Now, the minimum billing for 3,000 gallons of water or less is $12.95 and $12.90 for sewer.

At the Nov. 18 board meeting WGK engineering presented the alderman with a project status report that can give some hope to annexed residents. Among other improvements being made on the original Brookhaven sewer systems was a timetable for the annexed areas.

The WGK Engineering report stated that the Annexation Improvements Project will extend water and sewer services to several areas throughout the city with an authorized maximum loan amount of $8 million. The facilities plan have been submitted to Mississippi Department of Environmental Equality and Health Department, the environment review is underway, topographic surveying for design is underway and is 85% complete and preliminary design has begun for Weed Lane, Deer Run, Moreton Estates and Oak Hill.

Phillips said they have chosen to focus on areas that are the “easiest” to quickly provide services to, with the amount of money they have. “These areas were the easiest to service with our existing system. We picked places that would give us the biggest bang for our buck.” He added that water will be extended to others at a later date.

Cox said that it has been moving slowly but things are moving and it is getting done.

The report continued: WGK experts are to identify any easement needed by the end of Jan. 2015 and provide those to the city attorney to begin acquisition, the design and complete plans are expected to be approved by June 2015, advertisement is expected to begin Aug. 2015 and construction is expected to begin around Oct. 2015.

City officials can now see a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel and annexed residents will soon have a decision to make about switching to city water versus well water or county lines and remaining on septic systems.

Over the past decade there have been no boil water alerts in Brookhaven. Even during hurricane Katrina when most places lost fresh water, the city remained one of the few that never had to boil water.

“Clean safe dependable water and sewer are a very valuable commodity and it’s a commodity that we all take for granted, but without those things you’re a third world country,” said Phillips. “We can do without cell phones, we can do without cable, we can do without three cars but the value of clean water and an adequate sewer system is what keeps us all healthy.”