VP seeking millage for water improvements

By: CARISSA HEBERT

Managing Editor

The city’s water system is in a critical state, according to city leaders, so they are asking residents to approve a millage October 4, to begin improving the present system.

On behalf of the City of Ville Platte and the city council, Mayor Bill Jeanmard is asking taxpayers to approve a millage for 30 mills for 25 years (2008-2032). With the proceeds of the millage, the city would use 48 percent for the city’s water system and the other 52 percent for fire, police and other improvements. The wording states monies would be used for “acquisition, construction, operation of a new fire station, law enforcement facilities and other public facilities and improvements.”

The city’s water system dates back to 1926; Jeanmard said many of those lines are still in use today. The lines are 70 to 80 years old and the city is facing many problems associated with the lines. The city purchased the system from Cleco in 1984 and completed an improvement project to upgrade lines to eight and 10 inches. That upgrade is now 24 years old, but the city is not having problems with those lines at this time. Jeanmard said the older lines are metal and break once they are touched.

In June, a survey of the system indicated the city was losing 1.65 million/gallons per day. Jeanmard said this is over half of the water the city is producing per day. At the moment, they have identified almost 100 major leaks, and as fast as repairs are made, more leaks are occurring across the city.

“This is a serious threat to the fire rating,” Jeanmard said. “It’s widespread; we are attacking multiple issues that have to be addressed.”

He explained leaks are causing other problems in the city like cost increases for chlorine and utilities. Eric LaFleur, state senator and the city’s attorney, said the Louisiana Rural Water Association noted in their study of Ville Platte’s water system, the city could save 35 percent in energy and treatment costs if it replaced or repaired the system.

At the moment, when one repair is made, the line is breaking a few feet away on either side of the repair. The mayor said the city’s water pressure has been lowered to an acceptable level so the system doesn’t put too much pressure on the pipes. Jeanmard said this decision has helped to prevent some breakages. In the future when repairs are made, he said the city’s system could return to normal.

Ronnie Landreneau, city engineer, said they’ll make the repair and a few weeks later, there’s another leak. He said sometimes there are seven to eight patches in a 10-foot area due to the aging pipe.

“We’re not only losing water and facing the danger of not having enough water; it’s also what it’s doing to the streets and other structures.

LaFleur pointed out 67 percent of the city’s water production would not be required if the system was not in such a deteriorated state.

At the moment, the present lines are running under our roadways. Jeanmard said sometimes water is coming up in one place but the breakage in the line is down the street. He said streets are being broken and then patched to make the repairs.

If the city is successful in passing a millage, Landreneau said it would receive the first monies from the millage as early as December 2008. He said plans could be accepted and bids could go out to begin the first phase of replacing the city’s aging water system. Lines would be replaced based on problems and needs. Residents could see construction begin in late spring or early summer.

Old lines, not replaced, would be “killed” or “abandoned,” Jeanmard said. He would like to see the new lines placed in right-of-ways along the side of the streets instead of under the streets.

When asked about the wording of the proposition and how residents could be sure the monies would go to what they were raised for, Jeanmard believes the wording locks in how the millage can be utilized. The next question asked to the leaders dealt with the last millage passed for police and fire, and Jeanmard said that was under a different administration. (Monies from this millage were given to the departments, but they replaced monies in the budget. They did not add to the departments’ existing budgets.) He said his administration has returned these monies to the fire and police budgets. He also said six to seven percent of the millage would be used to give police and fire employees raises.

Retaining experience, especially in the police department, has been a critical issue for leaders. Jeanmard said salary increases with this millage would help to alleviate these issues. He explained the city’s fire fleet is aging. The fire department’s ladder truck needs to be replaced and a new one could cost $300,000 to $400,000.

If the millage is not approved, the city’s alternative is to look at raising rates for customers at least $28 to $31 more per month. He said residents have already seen some rate increases to a degree.

The other concern when it comes to water is the city’s wells. The five wells are operating 24-hours-a-day. Recently, when two of the smallest wells went down, Cliff Fontenot, deputy clerk over water production, said the city had to ask a smaller water district for assistance. He said usually this works the other way. Jeanmard added this was the first time the city sought help and it was to make sure a certain level was present in the event of a fire.

Fontenot, who has worked for the city for 20 years, said if a large fire began like the historical Sacred Heart gym fire or G. Ardoin fire, the city could face issues of not having enough water to fight the fire.

When he first began, Fontenot said the city pumped less than a million gallons per day. Some days, the city is pumping over three million gallons a day and it has approximately 2,000 less customers today than it did in the 1980s. He also has seen the use of chlorine increase almost 100 percent. “We’re fighting a losing battle.”

The council also has received numerous suggestions for acquiring grants to replace the water system, according to Jeanmard and Councilman Freddie Jack, mayor pro-tem, who sat in on this meeting. At this stage, city leaders believe it is too late for grants. Grants come with stipulations that mandate matching funds be provided by the applicant and the project must be completed before the city can apply for another similar grant.

For the city’s gas system, which was installed in 1976, the city would like to begin utilizing grants and its surplus to make repairs. They do not want this system to reach the critical level in the next 15 to 20 years like the water system has. They would like to begin addressing those issues now.

Jeanmard said if the city doesn’t need the 30 mills, they will drop it. However, with the rise in material costs, he doesn’t see prices coming down. He’s asking residents to re-invest in Ville Platte like our forefathers did 20 to 50 years ago.

Once the water system is replaced, Jeanmard believes residents will see more savings in their fire insurance premiums. He believes the city can aim for a two rating, and from what he knows of insurance premiums, he believes each drop in the rating brings a homeowner 15 to 20 percent in savings annually. (The Gazette attempted to reach the Louisiana Department of Insurance unsuccessfully to see what the average savings would be based on a change in the rating.)

Fontenot sums it up; he said since he began working under Hottel’s administration, each mayor has passed on the aging water system to the next mayor. “I don’t think it can wait anymore. The city just can’t survive. I don’t think it can be passed on. I believe the buck stops here.”

Jeanmard said they have a plan, and he’s hoping residents will support the city by saying yes to an investment for the city’s future. He said the present administration is not only thinking of today’s problems, but they have to think about tomorrow’s issues. “We’re not reacting; we’re responding to it,” he said.

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