Grambling water hike gets final approval

By T. Scott Boatright

Grambling residents will see a $4.31 monthly rate hike on water prices starting this month after Grambling’s City Council made official during Thursday’s monthly meeting a move first set in motion in late September during a Town Hall meeting announcing the increase was coming.

Mayor Alvin Bradley believes it’s a small sacrifice that will make a big difference toward ending a longtime problem.

Bradley said the increase to city water rates is needed for Grambling to be able to receive funding from a $1 million water system improvement grant.

Pursuant to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), the State of Louisiana allocated $300 million to the program for Round 1 and $450 million for Round 2 of the Water Sector Program from the State’s allocation of ARPA funding from the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund.

But Grambling needs the increase to $29.16 per month for water in order to receive $1 million from Round 2 of the Water Sector Program funding.

That $1 million in funding can’t be given to Grambling until the city can show it is bringing in 20% or more in water revenue than that cost of operating the water system.

Hence the need for the rate hike.

The funding will pay for shutoff valves to be placed throughout the city that will allow water to be turned off only in specific areas that a problem is located in as opposed to having to cut off water service to cut off water to the entire city as currently happens when such troubles arise.

“No one wants to face a price increase, especially these days. But the future has to be part of the big picture, too,” Bradley said while discussing the issue during Grambling’s October City Council meeting.

“Our rates will still be lower than a lot of rates around the state. This will improve our water infrastructure and is something that needs to be done. Hopefully doing something like this right now will help lead to even more possible improvements in the future.”

During Thursday’s meeting Grambling’s City Council also approved a motion that will lead to the issuing of $547,000 in taxable excess revenue bonds that will set up a 100% forgivable loan from Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

That loan will help fund manhole rehabilitation in the northern section of the city.

Municipal finance attorney Hardy Jones from the New Orleans-based law firm Foley and Jufell said the move was the first step in acquiring the “loan” that won’t end up costing Grambling a penny in the end.

“This resolution starts the process,” Jones said. “It employs our firm to work on the city’s behalf toward closing of this loan and allows us to go to the State Bond Commission.”

As another order of business during Thursday’s meeting, Grambling City Council approved acceptance of a low bid of $2.7 million from Womack and Sons Construction of Harrisonburg for waste-system renovation with other project costs being paid for from an earlier-approved state grant.

“For the public, this is renovation for a force main down RWE Jones (Drive), two generators as well as the renovation of 12 lift stations within the city of Grambling,” Bradley said. “So it’s much needed.”

During the meeting Councilwoman Delores Wilkerson Smith also brought up the potential of creating ordinances to identity short-term rental sites and regulate them,’

“Short-term rentals of less than 30 days — they’re often referred to as Airbnbs — provide economic opportunities for individuals but can also put strains on different communities,” Wilkerson Smith said. “I’ve noticed that when I’ve gone to Planning and Zoning (meetings), some residential houses are being converted to Airbnbs.”

Wilkerson Smith said more governance over Airbnbs would help protect all city residents.

“We need some ordinances here in the city that will allow us to identify Airbnbs and have some control over where they are, because what you’ll find is that oftentimes they’re located in single-family areas, like if the parents die and the children convert to an Airbnb,” Wilkerson Smith said. “We’re not trying to keep anyone from having economic empowerment, but we also want to be sure that the traffic or noise or whatever doesn’t overpower the neighborhood. So we’re looking to identify them and put some rules and regulations on them.”