Hernando aldermen voted Tuesday to increase water rates on city customers by 26 percent in a bid to make needed repairs on the city's aging water system and stay ahead of rising costs for maintenance and future upgrades.
However, the rise in water rates comes on the heels of a 16.7 percent increase in city property taxes, which was approved last month.
Mayor Tom Ferguson acknowledges the tax hike and rate increase might amount to "sticker shock" in the eyes of some city residents, but he said the increases were a long time in coming.
The majority of the increases will be to pay for fire and police pay upgrades and fund a second city ambulance.
"First of all, we need to take care of public health and safety," Ferguson said, adding that the increase in city water rates is not out of line with other municipalities.
"Our water rates are cheap compared to water rates across the nation," Ferguson said.
As far as property tax rates are concerned, Ferguson maintains that Hernando was long overdue for a tax increase. Besides, said Ferguson, the DeSoto County seat's overall tax levy is the same or less than other cities in DeSoto County.
The two most rapidly growing areas in DeSoto County are Olive Branch and Hernando, with Southaven often topping the other two cities in growth.
"Olive Branch may be a hair lower but they own their (natural) gas," Ferguson said. "They can keep their tax burden less because they have more sales tax."
Ferguson said he understands the criticism that some residents feel in having to pay more taxes for the services they receive.
"I think the citizens will be able to see what they get for their tax dollars," Ferguson said.
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.