NEW MADRID - Faced with an aging infrastructure, the New Madrid Board of Aldermen turned to its citizens in the first of a series of town meetings for possible solutions.
More than 50 residents attended Tuesday evening's meeting, which Mayor Donnie Brown described as an opportunity to hear from citizens. "We are looking for ideas," said Brown. "We are looking at the big picture in an effort to better the town we live in."
Following a major power outage on Christmas Eve 2004, city leaders began a review of New Madrid's electrical needs. Flooding problems resulted in a review of water and sewage needs, the mayor said.
Keith J. Budlong, an engineer with Midsouth Utility Consultants, explained the eight-phase electrical improvement proposal made by his company. The first phase is complete and the second phase is some eight weeks from completion.
The remaining phases would upgrade the city's electrical system to a modern 13,000 volt system, ending use of the city's old 4,000 volt power station, Budlong explained. Power would be looped throughout the city enabling power to be rerouted in the event of a disaster, he said.
Asked about a time line on the phases, the mayor noted, "Basically it should have already been done. What we are looking at now is the best financial way to get it done."
The cost of the remaining six phases is $3.5 million.
The survey of the water/sewage needs estimates $1.2 million will be needed to complete improvements.
While there are several funding options available, Brown said the city is considering certificates of participation to fund the work which would be repaid through the operation of the system.
Brown explained while in the past the city has transferred revenue from the profits of the city-owned utility system to fund city services as well as keep water and sewage rates low, the council would like for each service costs to consumers reflect what it costs the city to provide. This would result in an estimated minimum charge of $11 for water, up from $3.11, while the cost for minimum basic sewage service would go to about $10, up from $2.87.
As far as electric costs, the mayor said they have spoken to the city's suppliers, which are also faced by rising costs. The suppliers have increased their rate costs to the city 10 percent each of the past two years and foresee an estimated 11 percent hike this year.
Emphasizing the city is just estimating the costs, the price per kilowatt hour for consumers would also bring an increase to bills. One individual in the audience, after reviewing the numbers, estimated it would be about 50 percent rise.
According to Brown, the city staff has reviewed other communities water and electric rates. "Even with those proposed increases, our rates will still be among the lowest in the nation," he said.
"In my mind this has to be done or we won't be able to serve the people here, let alone any new people," added Brown about the proposed projects. However, the mayor added, he welcomed any suggestions and encouraged citizens to voice opinions.
Displays of the electrical phase proposals as well as the projected costs to citizens can be viewed at the New Madrid Chamber of Commerce office. A second meeting for citizen input is planned for 7 p.m. April 24 at the O'Bannon Community Building.