Utility rates will go up in Berwick

BERWICK — The town council reluctantly raised utility rates Tuesday night with a vote that exerted influence on another issue: whether the town should help pay for a study targeting economic development in Morgan City and Berwick.
In the end, the council voted to raise the rates and help pay for the study.
Berwick residents will now pay a $10 minimum per month for the first 200 cubic feet of natural gas, and $1.25 for each subsequent 100 cubic feet. For gas customers outside the city limits, the rate is $1.35.
Water customers will pay a minimum of $15 for the first 2,000 gallons per month, and $5.50 for each subsequent 1,000 gallons.
The increased charges are expected to raise $500,000. The utility service hasn’t been paying for itself in recent years, and the council had to tap the general fund for $217,000 for gas service and $117,000 for water service. Council members talked about using the excess to repair aging infrastructure.
Council member Damon Robison objected to the way the minimums were structured. The minimum payment for natural gas went from $6 to $10.
“That seems like a lot right now,” he said.
The raise could boost utility rates 30 to 50 percent, Robison said.
Robison cast the only vote against the utility hike. Members Duval Arthur, Jacki Ackel, Greg Roussel and Troy Lombardo voted for the raise.
Even before they talked about utility rates, the issue was on the council’s mind when members of St. Mary Excel asked the council for $10,000. Excel wants to commission a study of the Morgan City-Berwick area by the Urban Land Institute. Excel is a group that has been working for 2½ years to find a way to improve the economic prospects for St. Mary.
Alice Pecoraro of Excel said the study requires about $135,000, plus another $5,000 for incidents like printing costs. The group has talked to other local governments, business people and private individuals and has raised $95,000 so far.
Institute volunteers would tour the area and conduct interviews with 75-100 local people and develop recommendations for economic development, economic diversification and effective use of the waterfront in both communities.
“We’ve watched the community deteriorate in the last 30 years, every which way …,” Pecoraro said. “What we need is some excitement and momentum and hope.”
Council member Roussel sympathized with the goal but noted that the council was about to vote on a hike in utility rates.
“I think it’s just not showing very good leadership,” Roussel said.
The council agreed to pay Excel $5,000 from the current budget and try to find another $5,000 in the budget that will come up for workshops next month.
Roussel and Troy Lombardo cast dissenting votes.Also Tuesday, 3rd Congressional District politics became part of the council meeting.
Josh Guillory of Youngsville, a Republican, talked to the council about his plans to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre. Guillory said he hopes to give south Louisiana a voice in Washington. He favors a balanced budget.
“We’re lacking the civility we once had, and I think we can have it again,” Guillory said.
Mac Wade, executive director of the Port of Morgan City, followed Guillory by thanking Higgins for finding money for the port’s dredging, which Wade said had been underfunded.
A supplement aid package contained $360 million to be shared by seven states, Wade said. Louisiana ended up with $200 million, and the 3rd District, which extends from St. Mary west to the Texas border, got $141 million.
Wade pointed to $9 million Higgins helped secure for dredging, which could open the port to larger ships and more cargo business.
“The Port of Morgan City is going to be open for business,” Wade said.
The council also passed a resolution congratulating the Berwick High baseball team for winning the Louisiana 3A high school championship.

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