The Ouachita Parish Police Jury voted earlier this week to allocate some $7.3 million as matching funds for several local water and sewer companies seeking state funding for infrastructure projects.
Earlier this year, the state received more than $300 million through the American Rescue Plan Act and has directed the funds to be used on public infrastructure projects. Any entities applying to the state for federal funding may receive a more favorable grading by the state if a local police jury commits matching funds, parish officials say.
The state program is called the Water Sector Commission program.
Prior to its regular meeting on Monday, the Police Jury considered committing only some $4.5 million in funding to local water and sewer companies.
During the meeting, consulting parish engineer Kevin Crosby recommended raising that amount to some $7.3 million because some of the local companies did not have enough funding to cover the costs of project engineering.
“I have a concern about the $3-million jump in funding,” said Police Jury Vice President Jack Clampit.
The three entities seeking the most from the Police Jury in matching funds are West Ouachita Sewerage District No. 5 ($1.6 million), Greater Ouachita Water Co. ($1.4 million), and Lakeshore Sewer ($1 million).
According to Crosby, Greater Ouachita Water Co. appeared to be the only company of 10 applicants that could complete their projects without funding through the Water Sector Commission or a match from the Police Jury.
“They would be able to go to the Public Service Commission and get a rate increase that would be paid for by their customers,” stated Crosby’s Oct. 18 report to the Police Jury. “Due to the Compliance Orders they are currently under, the projects are mandated to be built.”
Clampit and Police Jury President Shane Smiley expressed concern that Greater Ouachita might try to increase its customers’ water rates to pay for the company’s projects if it could not secure Water Sector Commission funding.
Philip McQueen, president at Greater Ouachita Water, said he wanted to clarify the water company would not automatically seek the Public Service Commission’s approval for a water rate increase if the company failed to obtain Water Sector Commission funding.
McQueen acknowledged the projects had to be completed.
Police Juror Scotty Robinson said he would be surprised if any of the local entities received funding from the state. Crosby agreed.
“I think there is a zero percent chance of them getting funded,” Crosby said.
Smiley also questioned whether the parish should invest in water and sewer infrastructure projects in unincorporated parts of the parish, if those projects included areas near municipalities.
“So many times, people develop in the parish and they annex it to the city,” Smiley said. “And it always, 100 percent of the time, happens because of sewer and water.”
The Police Jury ultimately approved local water and sewer entities’ requests for match funding. Parish officials pledged to commit the money even if entities secured funding or loans from other sources than through the Water Sector Commission, as long as the parish was reimbursed.
The entities requesting match funding from the Police Jury included the following:
• Better Waterworks ($585,000 from Police Jury for $1.4-million project)
• Country Estates Water ($812,000 from Police Jury for $1.9-million project)
• Frost Town Water ($140,000 from Police Jury for $1.4-million project)
• Greater Ouachita Water Co. ($469,000 from Police Jury for $4.6-million project)
• Lakeshore Sewer ($1.5 million from Police Jury for $2.5-million project)
• North Monroe Sewer ($445,000 from Police Jury for $1.1-million project)
• Prairie Road Water District ($450,000 from Police Jury for $1-million project)
• Southwest Ouachita Waterworks ($300,000 from Police Jury for $830,000-project)
• West Ouachita Sewerage District No. 5 ($1.6 million from Police Jury for $6.2-million project)