Residents question utility authority

Published 3:41 pm Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Picayune couple asked the Pearl River County Utility Authority board Tuesday night why they were being assessed a $300 by the authority to construct a home on their property since they already had city water and sewage and had paid the city’s tap fee.

John and Aline Giangrosso, who reside on Stafford Road just outside the city limits of Picayune, told the utility authority that they would like to build a home on their property, and were told they would have to pay the $300 permit fee that is assessed by the authority. John Giangrosso told the authority that they already have water and sewer service that is provided by the city of Picayune, and do not have any county services or a septic system. He asked why they were being assessed the permit fee for county services when they are already on city services, and had paid the tap fee for the city services when they signed on approximately three or four years ago.

Utility authority president Steve Lawler admitted that the situation put the utility authority in a gray area, because the Giangrossos did have city services, although they do not live inside the city limits.

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Jeffrey Hollimon, attorney for the authority, said that even though the Giangrossos have city services, because they are not inside the city limits, they are not in a certificated area.

“We can’t enter anybody’s certificated area. … You aren’t in anyone’s certificated area. You are being served by the City of Picayune outside a certificated area. What our rules say is that with any new construction … when a plumbing permit has to be pulled, then we step in because we have to approve that system. … If we don’t do that, then we are starting to manage everything we do by exception to our own rules,” Lawler said.

Aline Giangrosso asked the board for specific examples of uses of the $300 permit fee.

Lawler said the fee is used to cover any administrative costs, such as engineering fees, attorney fees, and other expenses.

“We board members have not been paid anything. We have created and are creating what is going to be a very large business. As with any business, we have overhead to run that business. We are not for profit, and we don’t want to charge excessive fees. But what we did for that $300 was go to other authorities and look at what it cost them to provide the same services we are trying to provide here in this county,” Lawler said.

Lawler said he realized not everyone will receive the same services from the board, and some people may need more services than others, but that the “fee has to be level across the board.”

Aline Giangrosso then asked Lawler, “What is the purpose of the board?”

“We were created by an act of legislature to administer water, wastewater, and storm water for Pearl River County. This board and its counterparts are going to be charged with the responsibility of regulating water, wastewater and storm water. The ultimate objective is, after the Katrina disaster, the whole point was to make sure we went back in and came up with a good plan to make sure all the citizens of the county have potable water and can control wastewater during another disaster,” Lawler said.

John Giangrosso asked the board if they pay the fee now, while they are on City of Picayune services, would they have to pay the fee again if the utility authority takes over servicing the area in the future.

Brooks Wallace, who represents Dungan Engineering as the authority’s engineering firm, said the only way the couple would be charged another fee is if they have to pull another building permit for more new construction.

In other business, Wallace said an individual who owns property near Anchor Lake is wanting to split his property into several lots. Wallace said the authority had told the resident he could divide the 20 acres into nine separate lots without putting in a sewer system. The resident came back to Wallace and asked if he could have a 10th section of land added in to use as “green space”, meaning that the plot will never be developed and have a well, septic system, or sewer system on it.

Lawler said he didn’t have a problem with the “green space”, provided the property can be restricted from being a buildable lot.

Board member Isaiah Lewis asked Wallace if the resident intends to dedicate the lot to the public so others in the subdivision will have access to it, and Wallace said he did not know if that was the resident’s intention or not.

The board agreed that the resident could designate the “green space” as long as a designation is put into the subdivision plat that prohibits the space from being used as a buildable lot in the future.

In other business, the authority approved a motion for board president Steve Lawler to sign an amendment to extend the closing date for the takeover of the Poplarville system.