If approved by the Webster Parish Police Jury and other agencies, Germantown Water System could become a water district.
In becoming a water district, this will allow the system to seek grants to improve the infrastructure of the 40 plus year old system, which services some 500 members. Lane Davidson and Dustin Smith went before the jury on behalf of the water system board Tuesday to ask them to consider their request.
“We do not have the OK from our membership as of right now, but that’s probably my fault, because I want to find out if y’all would even consider before I send this to our membership,” Davidson said. “I don’t think the membership will have a problem with it. I know our board is all on board to do it.”
The difference between a water district and a water system is water systems are owned by its membership and governed by the Public Service Commission.
“It’s almost impossible to get things done when you have to fill out so much paperwork to do anything,” he said. “We’re trying to do this to maintain water for our membership.”
Davidson and Smith say right now they are only generating enough income to maintain the current infrastructure. They have no debt, other than a $25,000 USDA loan they received for improvements. Davidson says they have enough money to pay off the loan.
Water rates have not increased in more than 10 years, he said.
Jury President Jim Bonsall says this will take Germantown out from under the government of the PSC. In order to garner water district status, it has to have at least 20 to 25 percent approval from the membership as well as approval from the PSC, Smith and Davidson said.
“I would definitely take it under consideration if they (the Germantown board) feel like that’s the right thing to do; I would go along with it,” juror Randy Thomas, district 4, said.
The Germantown Water System is in Thomas’ district.
Parish attorney Patrick Jackson advised the jury regarding a rate increase before they made their decision to take it under consideration.
“This has been my experience,” Jackson said. “The problem with not raising rates is there’s not sufficient reserves to do the maintenance. When the district creates it, the end user will get the impression that government has taken over and now rates have gone up. That’s the biggest issue.”
Jackson cautioned them, saying misinformation could be delegated about the cause for the move.
“Most systems now, when they get loans from the USDA, they force you to build into your rate a maintenance reserve account so that as systems time out, your rate makes you have enough money to replace all that,” he said. “The days of $8 and $10 water bills are over, and if you’re still charging $8 and $10, it just costs too much money to make good, quality water and maintain the system.”
Bonsall says the PSC has not allowed Germantown to make the improvements they need to make through the years, because they wouldn’t allow them to raise rates over time.
“Now, they are backed into a position where they still need to raise their rates, and they’re to a point where they don’t have any money left to improve their system,” he said. “They’re reacting to problems instead of being able to make their system better.”
Germantown is one of 33 water systems in the parish. Only four are named as water districts: Doyline Water System, McIntyre Water System, Sarepta Water Works District and Sibley Water System.
The police jury will take it under consideration and discussion will follow at upcoming meetings.