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|Mississippi, drought costing Vidalia; layoffs announced|
The Mighty Mississippi -- at a record high of 62 feet 15 months ago and today near a record low -- may cost Vidalia up to $7 million.
To stay afloat, Mayor Hyram Copeland said today (Wednesday) that he has laid off 14 employees and placed four on a part-time schedule, while four others are retiring.
"It's the most difficult thing I've ever done as mayor, but we really have no other choice," Copeland said. "A flood last year and the drought this year have hit us hard."
Copeland said the town's losses from last year's flood total about $1.5 million, while today's low river stage due to a drought may cost the city $4 to $6 million in lost income from the Sydney A. Murray Hydroelectric Plant on the Mississippi 40 miles south of town.
He said the hydro plant is operating at only 20 percent capacity due to the low river stage.
"Vidalia receives royalties from the operation of the plant and is allocated six percent of the power that we sell to LEPA (Louisiana Energy & Power Authority)," Copeland said. "It plays a vital part of our revenue."
Copeland said the drought "started for us around May and we're projecting losses for a six to eight month period."
He said the city has gone through much of its $5 million in reserve funds leaving him no alternative but to lay off workers.
"We're going to continue to provide all the city services, such as police, fire, ambulance and utilities," Copeland said. "We're cutting back wherever we can."
He said the city's losses from last year's flood involved protecting several riverfront businesses, including the convention center, with temporary levees, and the subsequent recovery work to repair damaged infrastructure.
Copeland said the city employs 160, has an annual payroll of $8 million and an annual budget of $30 million.
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