Biloxi water bills to increase to pay debt

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Elizabeth Vowell – email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - After Hurricane Katrina, the landscape was uncertain for residents and businesses alike. It was no exception for the Harrison County Utility Authority that suffered damages to its facilities.

"All our water and sewage projects, waste water facilities got damaged. We didn't know how much it would cost. We didn't know how we were going to make the payments," said Biloxi Mayor A. J. Holloway.

"After Katrina, our board decided to refinance roughly $112 million of the debt that Harrison County Utility had, to give us some break," said Harrison County Utility Authority Executive Director Kamran Pahlavan.

Part of that break included deferring interest for two and a half years for the cities and the county.

"That two and a half years is over and done and now you're paying back the interest that was deferred," explained Pahlavan.

According to the Biloxi mayor, each city in Harrison County has to decide how it's going to pay off the debt. Biloxi residents, for example, will feel it in their monthly water and sewage bills.

"They are going to see an additional $21 a month when they use an average of 8,000 gallons of water a month. That's what the average use is in Biloxi," explained Holloway.

While the Biloxi water and sewage rates will not change, bills will when the debt fee to is tacked on.  The extra fee is something the mayor says is an unfortunate, but necessary evil for consumers.

"You have to pay that debt, and the debt services have gone up. Delaying that for two years was actually a mistake, but we didn't know that at the time.  We're paying for it now," said Holloway.

The fee in Biloxi will go into effect in October, after the new city budget is adopted.

Biloxi and Gulfport are responsible for most of the utility debt because the cities have the most consumers.

Gulfport has not decided how they will offset the debt.  The city will choose from several options in its upcoming budget meeting.

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