Sterlington Mayor Caesar Velasquez and Town Council member Matt Talbert.JPG

The Sterlington Town Council introduced an ordinance Tuesday that would repeal a critical part of the town’s plans to launch a municipal water system independent of Greater Ouachita Water Co. or any other private company.

Specifically, the ordinance would repeal a prior ordinance forbidding developers in Sterlington from donating water lines to Greater Ouachita.

The Town Council discussed repealing the ordinance amendment during its regular meeting after hearing an update on fiscal administrator I.M. “Junior” Shelton Jr.’s efforts to put the town on sound financial footing.

The state assigned a fiscal administrator to Sterlington because the town faced bankruptcy after amassing $20 million in debt, partially from efforts to maintain its municipal sewer system and launching its own water system. Greater Ouachita currently provides water services to Sterlington residents.

As is customary with most developments, Greater Ouachita required residential and commercial developers to donate their water lines to the company in order to receive water services at the development.

Under former Mayor Vern Breland’s guidance, Sterlington introduced an amendment that would forbid developers from giving any more water infrastructure to Greater Ouachita.

“This just simply removes the provision placed in there that a private individual could not donate their lines to a private company,” said Monroe attorney Devin Jones, who serves as Sterlington’s legal counsel. “We know the gist of where it was headed. We’ve heard several developers say they could not move ahead with their developments because of this. We do not want to impede development.”

Jones said some developers had gotten around the restriction by selling their water lines for $1. Others insisted the restriction be repealed, according to Jones.

It was unclear whether Sterlington was giving up plans to launch an independent water system in light of its concession over who can now claim ownership of the water infrastructure.

Mayor Caesar Velasquez did not respond to The Ouachita Citizen’s inquiries by telephone or text message.

Velasquez, who previously served as a Town Council member, as well as Town Council member Ron Hill each supported the plans to pursue a water system.

At this time, Sterlington is in debt by millions of dollars and millions of dollars away from launching a water system to serve town residents.

Town Council member Zack Howse, who seconded the motion to repeal the amendment, said he did not believe an independent water system was in the town’s best interest at this time.

When asked whether Sterlington was abandoning plans to operate a water system, Howse said, “That decision is ultimately up to the mayor.”

“Personally, I do not plan to pursue an independent water system,” Howse said. “It has been explained to me by the mayor and Ron that if we did pursue a water system, this would just mean there’s less water infrastructure for us to buy. But it’s my opinion an independent water system is something we shouldn't pursue.”

Meanwhile, Shelton indicated the two areas that have historically bled Sterlington of money — the Sterlington Sports Complex and its municipally-operated sewer system — would soon be addressed.

“You can break it down into the ball park and the sewer as our greatest problems,” Shelton said. “The ball park is not producing the money it needs to.”

According to Shelton, a professional marketing company could be hired to bring more events — and more revenues — to the Sports Complex. Town Council members’ efforts to market the Sports Complex were not sufficient, according to Shelton.

“We have to make that park productive,” Shelton said.

“The last thing we want to happen is for that park to deteriorate.”

During his remarks at the meeting, Shelton did not address how town might solve the financial woes endured by the sewer system. The sewer system regularly runs a deficit, in spite of recent sewer rate hikes.

After the meeting, Shelton said the town’s accountant is preparing a debt service plan to solve the sewer system’s ongoing deficit.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Howse as saying he believed the town should pursue an independent water system. During the interview, he said he believed the town shouldn't pursue an independent water system. The mistake was corrected. The Ouachita Citizen regrets the error.

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