Nathan Stubbs

LUS eyes 'unprecedented' service cutbacks

by Nathan Stubbs

In a presentation to the City-Parish Council Tuesday afternoon, LUS Director Terry Huval spelled out what the grim consequences would be if the council denies a proposed rate increase for the public utility. This morning, Huval tells The INDsider that Lafayette has never had to experience the type of cutbacks LUS is now being forced to consider should the council not approve rate increase. "I don't know of any other time in LUS history," Huval says, "where the rate changes weren't ultimately approved by the council and that we had to take these kind of actions. Certainly in no one's memory here and I've got people here who've been working with LUS for almost 30 years and they've not seen that kind of situation occur. So this would be I think, unprecedented."

Should the rate increase not go through, LUS faces a $7.3 million shortfall in its current 2009-2010 fiscal year budget. The immediate impact will be decreased water pressure, a drastic cutback to tree trimming along power lines, and more frequent sewage backups. Over time, the lack of a maintenance budget will lead to greater transmission problems, power outages and possible fines for the sewage facility falling out of regulatory compliance. Huval made the case that these are not luxuries, but important infrastructure needs that our economy and quality of life depend on. LUS teamed up with an economist from LEDA to show the economic impact of lost power in the city. The report shows one extra day of a citywide power outage following a major storm has an economic impact of $21 million.

The council has asked that LUS re-introduce the rate increase ordinance at its Dec. 1 meeting, with a vote for final adoption falling on Dec. 15. The council will hear public comment on the issue at each of those meetings. "At this point," Huval says, "I expect more dialogue with council members at the meetings and outside the meetings to help them understand what we're dealing with here. But I know that a number of council members are struggling to indicate support for this simply because they feel their constituents don't want a rate increase."