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Utility authority regs draw more fire

Not a meeting goes by without a concerned citizen expressing discontent with Utility Authority rules and regulations or for that matter, expressing distaste with any other new regulation in the county.

At Monday’s Pearl River County Board of Supervisor meeting, developer Mark Gibson attended the preliminary plat public hearing for Big Branch subdivision, a development slated to have a mixture of modular homes and conventional homes, and posed a question about utility authority fees. Gibson had a problem with having to pay for a new trailer to be hooked up to an existing system. Utility Authority member Lewis said if the county requires a plumbing permit, then the permit seeker also has to get a permit with the authority. Chief building code Inspector Kirk Pichon said the trailer did require a new permit.

This prompted the question from another concerned resident.

“Nobody has been able to tell us what that $300 is for. If you don’t do anything how can you collect money?” Glen Rayburn said.

Rayburn said he recently paid $300 lot fees for some homes the authority did not inspect, but charged the fees to issue permits for those lots. Rayburn said he can understand the building codes since they support a better built home.

“At least you are getting something for your money, but with this you’re not getting anything,” Rayburn said.

Lewis said the fees help to pay for administration fees.

The preliminary plat public hearing for Big Branch was opened and closed without public comment.

Another county resident also had a problem with a new set of regulations passed after Hurricane Katrina, the building codes, or more specifically the section that covers property maintenance. Chris Martin said he was not happy with the board because of the codes. Martin said he recently received a letter concerning a house on some property he owns.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said Martin purchased land from an elderly couple with a life estate agreement, meaning Martin owns the land but not the house until the couple dies. However, he was the recipient of a letter stating the home would need to be fixed or torn down. While Martin admits the home in question is in great need of repair, he didn’t feel he had to comply with the order set forth by the county Building Codes Division.

After he paid the property taxes, he said he received a letter instructing him to take care of the blighted home.

“What got me so mad about it is ya’ll let me pay tax on this last Friday,” Martin said.

Although Martin said he had plans to see if the local volunteer fire department could burn the home in question down, Martin now says that since he received the letter he said he will not tear the home down since he paid taxes on it.

District I Supervisor Anthony Hales said Martin received the letter due to a complaint filed by another county resident, although the name of that resident is unknown since that resident was not required to sign the complaint.

District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen said there was an order requiring that complaints must be signed by the complainant, but Pichon said this complaint was filed before that order was passed down.

Martin has 30 days to remedy the situation, but the board decided to look at the matter and see what can be done by law before an injunction is filed on the property at the end of the time period.

About 30 minutes later, Barbara Dorr with Keep Mississippi Beautiful came to talk to the board about keeping the county clean. She said that litter and “physical disorders of property” lead to quality of life issues. Research shows that physical disorders of property are linked to economic development issues and cause a economic downward spiral of the county and its cities, bringing land values down, Dorr said.

She proposed the county participate in the Keep Mississippi Beautiful program and form a county team to keep up with the litter problem. Dorr said there is a school program associated with it, and she attributes smoke free public places to the school programs focused against smoking. The program will involve a litter index to be conducted at about $2,900 each year. Dorr said with her help she could drop that price to $1,000 or less.

“No pun intended but we’re at your disposal,” Dorr said.

Part of the program would have incentives for officers to issue citations, where a gun or knife would be offered as the prize for the most citations issued.

“They love guns better than donuts,” Dorr said.

Thigpen said he would like to see the fines and punishment associated with littering to be increased from the current $250 fine.

Part of the problem could be associated with the thinking that garbage in the back of a pickup truck will stay put.

“When people put that cup in the back of their truck and think it’s going to stay there till the end of time, they’re just mistaken,” Thigpen said.

The board decided to establish a Pearl River County beautification project under Keep Mississippi Beautiful and to send a letter to the organization stating their intentions. The board will request representatives from each of the municipalities.

Hales asked Mississippi Department of Environmental Equality representative Billy Warden to address some key issues concerning landfills in Mississippi. Hales said he asked Warden to come to the meeting because of his neutral position concerning Central Landfill.

To build a landfill in Mississippi, two feet of compacted clay are laid at the bottom, then a high density polyethylene liner is put on top of the clay. After that, two feet of sand is placed on top of the liner with a drainage system of pipes so leachate can be removed from the bottom of the landfill, Warden said. The leachate drainage system allows the company to drain any harmful liquids from the bottom of the landfill to further reduce the risk of ground water contamination. When the company, in this case Waste Management, is done with the landfill, the top of the land fill is covered by another liner and soil to grow grass. The cap, as it is called, functions to prevent rain water from entering the capped landfill. For the next 30 years the closed site will continue to be monitored by the company. This is ensured with an account set up previously by the company, Warden said.

Warden said the requirement for clay below the liner is a more stringent practice than the rest of the country. Since Mississippi has an abundance of clay, the clay acts as another level of protection, he said.

Waste Management Regional Manager Mike Hall estimated that about 40,000 gallons of leachate is pumped from the landfill every month and it is tested to ensure no illegal substances are put in the dump.

Board attorney Nova Carroll asked if there were any counties Warden had heard of that allowed residents to vote on decisions concerning landfills such as that the county is currently involved in. Warden said he had not heard of any. Warden said years ago the state legislature stated that each county would be responsible to mandate and regulate the use of illegal dumpsites, so that even if the issue was placed on the upcoming ballot, the result would not be ginding.

If Central Landfill were to close, it would be the sole responsibility of the board to deal with the matter and find residents a place to put trash, Warden said. Asked about the fees associated with having waste shipped outside the county, Warden aid, “I wouldn’t even touch that one.”

The board went into executive session for personnel matters in the Sheriff’s Department. When they returned to open session they approved personnel changes in thedepartment.

In other business the board;

— Approved for Carroll to meet with Hancock County’s board attorney to discuss the possibility of building a Volunteer Fire Department for the Southeast District on the Hancock and Pearl River County line.

— Approved a generator bid of $104,730 from Taylor Power Systems. The six generators will be funded by a Hazard Mitigation Grant.

— Took satellite communication system bids under advisement.

— Authorized board president to sign request for reimbursement for Hazard mitigation grant project 1594-0001 for a Pearl River County building code enforcement project grant.

— Approved appointment of in-house selection committee for grant application for Katrina Supplemental Community Development Block Grant funds for Smart Growth plans. Appointees are Bettye Stockstill, Adrain Lumpkin, Harold Holmes, Julia Anderson and Kirk Pichon representing the county with John Sherman representing Poplarville and Ed Pinero representing Picayune.

— Approved lease finance on a Ford F250 and a Ford F350 for the Road Department with a total cost of $36,433 lease purchase finance.

— Authorized Road Department manager Mike Mitchell to attend a Duram auction to bid on a ditching machine at a price not to exceed $10,000 less than the last ditching machine purchased by the county.

The board meets again at 9 a.m. Monday March 5 at the Poplarville courthouse.