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UA discusses Hillsdale water project

The Pearl River County Utility Authority discussed the Hillsdale Water project at its monthly meeting on Wednesday.

Ray Eaton of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality said the Hillsdale project is in the last stages of the conceptual design phase, and the drawings should be finished in the next week or two.

Utility authority president Steve Lawler said the Hillsdale water project will use approximately $5 million of an $8 million dollar grant for water service to the northern end of the county, including north Lumberton and Poplarville.

Hillsdale resident Bertie Hunsinger asked the board what the cost will be to residents for service with the new system, because she and other Hillsdale residents had already paid a $25 fee to the Hillsdale Public Water Authority.

“As far as this authority (PRCUA) is concerned, we had nothing to do with that fee. Whatever your group has or has not done with the money, we will make that part of our agreement with them… We’re going to spend over $5 million in the area that you don’t have to pay back. If you went out and put this system in on your own, you might be talking about substantial sums of money. We’re not in it for money. We’re here to make the quality of services better for Pearl River County. We’re not about coming to say it will cost x number of dollars a month and x number of dollars to hook in. We’re not at that point. We will get to that point, but not yet,” Lawler said.

Board attorney Jeffrey Hollimon said the Hillsdale PWA has two choices once the infrastructure is in place.

“The Hillsdale Water Authority was formed under piece of legislation that gave that authority a defined, certificated area to provide service in. At this point in time, that water authority is the governing entity or the one that has the exclusive right to provide water to the retail customer. Should Hillsdale want to provide that, it would be up to that provider to provide hook-ups to these new main lines and to the houses and then you (the resident) would pay the Hillsdale authority. The other option is, the Hillsdale authority could cease to exist, and the PRCUA would take over the responsibility of providing retail service in the area. This board would have to borrow money to run the lines to get the water to the houses,” Hollimon said.

Hollimon said if the Hillsdale PWA decides to go with the first option, the PRCUA would still build the infrastructure, but that the Hillsdale PWA would be allowed to purchase the water at a wholesale rate, and the customers would be billed by the Hillsdale PWA.

Fred Aubrey of the Hillsdale PWA said the group has been working to try to obtain grants to install the infrastructure themselves, but have had no luck up to this point.

“What we’re interested in is getting water to the homeowners in the cheapest possible way. We asked the PRCUA, what would be feasibility of taking us over? All we want to do is get these people water,” Aubrey said.

Aubrey expressed concern that citizens may lose their deposits that have already been made, but Lawler said that would not happen, and polled the board members for their opinions. All members present said they did not see the previous deposits made by the Hillsdale residents as being a stumbling block for the contract agreement with Hillsdale PWA.

Catherine Tucker, a Hillsdale resident and business owner, asked the PRCUA who will provide the “checks and balances” for the group and regulate cost increases.

“You have four members of this board that are appointed by the supervisors. You can come and talk to this board at any time, and we will listen. You can also talk to your supervisor… We’re not going to charge any more than needed for water, but I’m not going to tell you rates will stay the same, go up, or go down. The more people we have tie into this system, the more it will ultimately reduce the cost. We will be audited by the state every year. We have agreed to open our books to City of Poplarville, we will do the same with the City of Picayune and the supervisors if they choose. We will stay lean and mean and contract out work and if the contractors do not work, we will get rid of them,” Lawler said.

District III Supervisor Hudson Holliday said he thinks residents need to trust the utility authority.

“The truth is these people are fixing to give you about $5 million. I ask you to trust them. Let’s get this thing moving. You won’t get water any cheaper, I assure you. We need to move forward. The bottom line is this is the cheapest way you’re going to get water,” Holliday said.

Holliday asked the board if people were going to be required to attach to the new system.

“Every water association, by virtue of federal regulations, has to have that rule. If we come by your house, you have to hook up. The law requires you to hook up to any available system. We reserve the right that IF we notify you, and bring the line in front of your property, you will have to hook up to the system. If you don’t want to hook up, and you make that known, we have to notify you that have one year to hook up. We may choose not to notify you. The reason that rule is in there is, all of this is driven by customers and the number of customers we’re providing service to,” Lawler said.

Jason Hicks of Samples and Associates presented the board with a budget modification from MDEQ. Hicks said the modification was needed in order to start the process to bring the $500,000 additional grant money for administrative expenses into the county.

Lawler wanted to clarify that the PRCUA will not receive the $500,000 up front, but rather as reimbursement once the money is spent.

“I don’t want the board to think that we’re going to get $500,000 and be able to just go spend it,” Lawler said.

Lawler also expressed concern that the money is part of a Community Development Block Grant, which makes accounting for the expenditure of the funds very detailed and restricted. Hollimon said he did not believe that would be a problem.

“We’re going to be as careful and conservative in the decision making to make sure we spend this money as accurately as possible. There are a lot of things we can use this money on. It’s a little broader than I first thought it might be, but there are a lot of things we can spend this money on,” Hollimon said.

Lawler said that while the grant money helps the authority tremendously, there are still issues that need to be resolved.

“Anyone who thinks this $500,000 solved our problems, they’ll dream of other things too. It doesn’t solve our day-to-day problems. The only way we’ll do that is to get up and running and get rate bases in place for our paying customers,” Lawler said.

In other business, the board:

– Approved a motion to allow Hollimon to enter negotiations with Orenco to determine funding sources for making the county waste water stations SCADA compliant.

– Approved resolution extending closing date between City of Poplarville and the PRCUA.

– Approved contract change orders.

– Approved the docket with one amendment.

The board recessed until 5:30 p.m., Monday, March 24.