The Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility Commission has approved a 2018 budget that includes a 2 percent performance-based pay increase for wastewater employees. Utility general manager Ken Johnson requested a $6.9 million budget for 2018 at a meeting Thursday morning. The 2018 budget will be an increase of 6.5 percent from the 2017 budget. Commissioners Lloyd Holcomb Sr., Paul Bennett, Carolyn Ferguson, Lafayette Woods Jr. and Vandora Demery approved the 2018 budget.

Johnson also requested the issuance of $5 million in bonds, of which $2.6 million will go to build a pump station; another $2.4 million in bonds will pay to replace an aging pipe that transports wastewater across the Arkansas River to the Boyd Point Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“We have already talked with an underwriter to make this process happen,” Johnson said of the bonds. “These projects were part of our rate increase that was done in 2015 to accommodate some of the debt serving in this case roughly $500,000.”

“We are subject to the scrutiny of auditors as well as the general public,” Johnson said. “We are very proud of our crew for decreasing service interruptions and we hope for that trend to continue.”

The wastewater utility commission hired Crist Engineers in March 2017 at a cost of $380,000 to design a pump station between Hazel Street and Taylor Phillips Road and to provide construction administration services. Crist is evaluating the system capacity, evaluating the ideal location of a new pump station and looking at operational demands that will be placed on the new station. Johnson said he prioritizes keeping the sewer system working without interruptions and for preserving the natural environment.

In Summit Poultry news, Ken Johnson said this company owes $31,000 to the wastewater utility and has failed to pay money in accordance with an earlier agreement.

Johnson said he has contacted Pine Bluff City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott to meet with the Summit Poultry lawyers about their client’s intentions to pay their debts. In January 2017, the utility permitted Summit to begin operations after Summit paid $1,250 for the permit and $14,644.37 in outstanding debt. The utility and Summit reached an agreement in January requiring Summit to pay $15,247.07 in 12 monthly installments. The utility forgave an additional $10,000 in debts in accordance with that agreement.

“We got the city attorney’s office involved because they were involved before when we negotiated that agreement,” Johnson said. “Summit Poultry is in the process of writing a letter to us to explain what the delay has been and when they could be back on schedule with making their monthly payments as well as current payments that have been occurring.”