Utility Authority in negotiations with Orenco

Published 4:28 pm Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Pearl River County Utility Authority is still in negotiations with Orenco to be the exclusive treatment plant manufacturer for Pearl River County.

Jeffrey Hollimon, attorney for the board, said at the meeting Tuesday night that most of the concerns about the proposed contract, which included allowing the Authority to purchase tanks from local providers and not use the company as its system operators, had been worked out.

“As long as the tanks are built to Orenco’s specifications, we will be able to purchase tanks from local providers…. Also, it said in the contract that we would use Orenco exclusively for any services relating to the system. However, we are in the process of advertising for system operators, so we took that clause out,” Hollimon said.

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Hollimon said the main concern about the contract now is that the Authority had asked for a no-fault termination clause, and that Orenco does not want to agree to the clause.

“The only thing that we have come to a hang-up on is that we wanted a no-fault termination clause. Their position is that the first year, they will be putting in a substantial amount of services and time with the assurance that we would be with them over the next five years, but if we terminate the contract, they will lose a considerable amount of money. We are trying to come up with an option that if we terminate early, they are compensated for their time and services expended,” Hollimon said.

Authority president Steve Lawler asked how important it was to have the no-fault termination clause in the contract.

Hollimon said it was just a good practice to have, although not absolutely necessary from a legal standpoint.

A survey of the board members present indicated that the board was unanimous in wanting a no-fault termination clause included in the contract. Members present included Lawler, Dr. Sonny Sones, authority vice-president Tommy Breland, Joel Pigott, and Ernie Lovell.

Lawler said the board will probably make a decision on the contract at its December 3 meeting.

“It will require a five-year commitment on our part… We have resolved to the satisfaction of this board that Orenco is really the best product, so maybe commitment is a good thing,” Lawler said.

Lawler also opened a round-table discussion with the county supervisors-elect, to allow them to ask questions and express concerns about the authority.

“Is there anything in the law that will allow the county to provide startup and administration costs instead of charging the public the $300 fee?” asked District I Supervisor Anthony Hales.

“We went to the board of supervisors and asked for a two to three year grant or loan when we started, but the board could not do that at the time. We also went to both the Picayune City Council and the Poplarville Board of Aldermen. We also went to the governor. The governor is trying to get us funding to take care of this,” Lawler said.

District III Supervisor-elect Hudson Holliday said he has supported the utility authority since its inception, but does not support the $300 fee.

“Come January, necessity is going to be the mother of invention. I will be glad for the county to fund the authority, but you will stop charging fees for people when they aren’t getting services… When you charge a fee for no services rendered, that is getting pretty close to an impact fee, which is illegal in the state of Mississippi. When I am sworn in, I am going to do everything in my power to stop the fees,” Holliday said. “I want to go on the record, the fees are going to stop.”

“I hope you can do that, but we still have law to operate under, and whether you wish or I wish that there were not any fees, we can’t just say we’re going to stop the fees. We will be more than willing to see what can be done to stop the fees, and if the law would provide for funding, or if we could get funding elsewhere, we would,” Lawler said. “Give us a solution.”

“I’ve woken up in the morning and I’ve needed money, but I didn’t go out and take it…. I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m not going to be part of something I don’t feel is morally right,” Holliday said.

“We met with the governor two or three months ago at the courthouse, and he asked me how it was going. I told him if we were on the upcoming ballot, we would be voted out because of the fee situation, and I told him that was a real problem. He made some notes, but up to this point, I have not seen any money. The fee situation… has been a sore spot with me at times. And I’ve never seen a federal grant where money was not provided for administration,… but the legislature and people who wrote this bill did not provide administrative funds. I don’t know anywhere in the United States that any utility authority has been given the responsibilities that this one has for storm water, wastewater, and water, that has not also been given funds to do it,” Sones said.

“The bottom line is, you need to figure out a way to stop the fees and continue to do the good work that you are doing,” Holliday said.