Denham Springs City Council to decide rate hike proposals

Municipal water, sewer and natural gas rates in and around Denham Springs would rise if the City Council approves a hike proposed by the city administration.

The sharpest increase would be a 67 percent jump in the basic rate charged to customers in a relatively new sewer district located largely to the south of the city, documents show.

That fee, which does not include an additional usage fee, would jump from $12 a month to $20 a month. The proposal affects Sewage District 1, a large area stretching southward from the city.

The proposal also would add yearly changes to sewer bills inside and outside the city based on the Consumer Index Price, the proposed ordinances show.

Natural gas rates would rise by 10 cents per hundred cubic feet for customers inside and outside the city, including some in East Baton Rouge Parish, under the proposed change.

Monthly water rates would rise an average of $5.43 for city residents and $5.63 for households outside the city that are hooked up to city water, Mayor Jimmy Durbin said.

The gas and water rate hikes are necessary because of the cost of relocating utility lines for road projects, Durbin said.

The cost increase for the sewer district customers comes because the district hasn’t gotten enough customers to pay notes on the $24 million in bonds the city sold to create the collection system, officials said.

The city expected to get 3,000 customers in that area, but has gained only about 2,000, Durbin said.

Parish Councilwoman Joan Landry said her constituents are upset that they face fee increases as a result of a city project in which the city didn’t correctly estimate the number of homes that the district would service.

“They (the city) took the gamble,” she said. “Why should we pay for the miscalculation by the planners of the project?” she asked.

“I just don’t know how high the rates will have to go” on the people living in the district because of the miscalculation, she said.

Durbin said he hopes development in the area will prevent large increases in the future.

Less development than expected in the area is one of the reasons the district didn’t get as many customers as it anticipated, Durbin said.

Construction didn’t start when expected on Juban Crossing, a large commercial and residential development that would be part of the district. That work is still on hold.

Another reason for lack of customers is that the district had to scale back plans for its coverage area, Durbin said.

That occurred because of the cost of buying out the customers of two small companies that operated subdivision sewer systems. The $1.4 million the district had to spend for that buyout was unexpected, the mayor said.

The city has forced homeowners located within 300 feet of the district’s sewer lines to connect to the system as the homeowners are required to do by law, Durbin said.

Landry said some of her constituents feel they have no say in a matter that is costing them money.

They feel it is unfair that the Denham Springs City Council acts as the board controlling the district while the majority of the people in the district live outside the city, Landry said.

“Why not have at least one member from the area?” she suggested.

John Wascom, the city councilman who serves as chairman of the sewer district, said that idea has been discussed.

He said he doesn’t think the board would be opposed to having a member from outside the city.

“I’m not sure of the best way to do it,” Wascom said, adding that it might be possible to add the Parish Council members who represent Denham Springs and the area south of the city where most of the sewer district customers are located.

A public hearing on the sewer district rate hike proposal will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Denham Springs Municipal Building.

Hearings on the other rate hikes will follow at 6 p.m., Wascom said.