Supervisors told of prisoner’s death, discuss Utility Authority issues

Published 7:28 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A death in the county jail was reported by the sheriff to the Board of Supervisors and the cost of water and waste water permits are coming down.

Sheriff Joe Stuart told the board that inmate Venus Bridges collapsed in her cell at the county jail in Millard Sunday and died after she was taken to Highland Community Hospital. The inmate’s medical report indicated she had ovarian cancer, high blood pressure and a heart condition, he said. An autopsy and report are being conducted by the Mississippi Crime Lab, he said. More information will be released after he receives the autopsy report, he said.

Since its creation, the Pearl River County Utility Authority has been criticized by both residents and water providers. In a move to reduce some of the costs to residents after observing how other counties conduct their business, the authority reduced the permit fee from $500 to $300, said president Steve Lawler.

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“All we want to do is cover the basic cost,” Lawler said. “We’re not trying to make a profit off of this.”

To date, no fees have been collected by the authority even though they went into effect on Dec. 7 after another public hearing and comment period, said Brooks Wallace of Dungan Engineering. Lawler said the authority received no comments concerning the fees during the comment period.

By comparison to Pearl River County, Stone county asks residents to pay $150 for water and waste water permits, but the cost to the developer is higher, Utility Authority Attorney Mike Caples said. In Pearl River County, the developer will end up paying about $50 a lot, while the home owner will pay the $300 permit fee.

District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen said he would expect that if the cost to the developer was higher, that higher cost would be passed on to the home buyer.

The money collected in permit fees will help the authority to get off the ground and pay engineers and lawyers who work for the authority, Lawler said.

“As a state agency, we’ve got to be able to fund our budget, and we’re going to keep that down to an absolute minimum as much as possible,” Lawler said.

Some money from grants eventually will find its way to the utility authority.

Lawler said the Gulf of Mexico grant application is completed and submitted but the authority has not received the money.

In addition $57 million has been designated by the governor to help the authority complete its master plan, Caples said.

Poplarville’s water well needs soon will be met with $2 million of emergency money that the authority will receive by the end of the year, Caples said. If Poplarville were to try to borrow money to fix the problem, then water customers would pay it back with higher bills, he said.

“Basically, we are solving their water problem and solving a lot of other water and waste water problems in this county,” Caples said.

Some supervisors have been receiving complaints about the existence of the authority, though it was the state legislature that established the authority. The county could have opted out, but if it had, it would not receive federal funding.

“It seems to be a headache today, when all the infrastructure is in the ground it will be a benefit to the county,” Caples said.

The cost of installing a septic tank and drilling a well is about $8,700. Installing a septic tank and connecting to an existing well costs about $5,700. A home in a subdivision would incur total fees of about $2,635 to provide water and sewer service. Only $350 of that amount goes to the Utility Authority. Homeowners in other states or counties pay more to connect to a water system.

“In comparison to our surrounding counties and states, we are very low on the totem pole,” Lawler said.

The board continued discussing who would collect the utility authority’s fee. Thigpen suggested that if county offices have to collect the fees, they should get paid for it.

Lawler said at some point the authority will hire people to collect the fees.

Board president Danny Wise said it would be necessary to bond those receiving funds or fees for the authority.

The board approved allowing both E-911 and planning and permit personnel to collect permit fees.

“If we’re catching too many headaches, we’re going to come back at you for some compensation,” Thigpen said.

The board also went in to executive session for pending litigation.

In other business the board:

— Approved seeking bids for permanent road repairs to numerous county roads due to damage from Federal Emergency Management Agency clean up work and using the $1.6 million FEMA provided to do the work.

— Approved advertising for bids for a turning lane on Miss. 43 South to Salem Road and direct Dungan Engineering to administer the bids.

— Approved purchasing software for building the permit program for $10,000, with installation and training to cost $1,400; a monthly maintenance fee of $200, and an optional cost to interface the E-911 program with the building permit program for $2,500.

— Approved preparing state aid project program for maintenance on steel on two bridges, one on West Union Road and the other on Holden Road, both over Hobolochitto creek.

— Authorized board president to sign bulldozer finance documents and issue check for $22,620.

The board meets next at 9 a.m. Monday at the Poplarville Courthouse.