Utility Authority considers late, reconnect fees

Published 5:36 pm Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Now that there are a few coverage areas under the Pearl River County Utility Authority’s umbrella, late fees and reconnection fees need to be worked out.

At Tuesday’s meeting in Picayune, board attorney Jeff Holliman said he has been comparing late and reconnection fees with other areas. The only other area where information was available was Poplarville, since Picayune failed to fill both of his requests, Holliman said.

Poplarville currently charges a $10 late fee and a $25 reconnect fee for the first reconnection. A $50 reconnect fee is charged for each consecutive reconnection. Local laws allow up to $40 to be charged for returned checks, though Poplarville does not charge that much. Typically payments are due on the 15th of the month for Poplarville customers, and those bills are delinquent 30 days after that, Holliman said. That rate schedule is typical for most areas so Holliman suggested the board consider adopting similar amendments to their rules and regulations. The matter was taken under consideration.

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Picayune, which has been suffering from computer glitches in its utility department, is not the only utility provider to suffer from billing problems. Utility Authority engineer Brooks Wallace said every customer on the former Dixie Utilities system was charged for sewer service, even though only customers in the Westchester subdivision have sewer service. Southwest Water Services had a list of about 80 customers on its cutoff list, but Wallace said he caught the error before those services were cutoff.

There appears to be a problem with some of the service Southwest Water Service is providing the Utility Authority. The Utility Authority contracted with the company to provide maintenance for its water and sewer lines. When the company was hired on by the Utility Authority, it was expected to maintain all the sewer and water services under the Utility Authority’s umbrella, which now includes the City of Picayune’s waste water treatment system. The company apparently has outsourced a number of projects it should have conducteds.

The touchy topic came up at Tuesday’s meeting when Wallace mentioned the discovery of yet another hole in the sewer line on East Canal Street. He said to repair each hole in the sewer line could cost up to $25,000. Wallace recommended the lines be cleaned and videoed first to look for other problems, which will cost about $15,000 require hiring another contractor to do it. Southwest had told the Utility Authority that it would be able to clean and video lines in its original bid, but now it appears the company has to outsource the project.

Lawler expressed his opposition to Southwest outsourcing work that the Utility Authority understood the company would be able to perform itself. Apparently the company is unable to provide the services outlined in their original bid, he said. Just as Lawler was about to suggest looking at the contract when it comes up again, Wallace interjected that the contract is set for five years.

The board asked Wallace to request a meeting with Southwest representatives to discuss the board’s items of contention.

All of the grant funds promised to the Utility Authority apparently have been received. With the acceptance of grant modification #6, the board has the remainder of the about $57 million that was promised to it when the Pearl River County Utility Authority was formed.

“This is the remainder of our funds; it’s finally here,” Wallace said.

The Utility Authority’s first audit was presented to each board member for review at the meeting. Lawler said the information in the audit will be publicly discussed at the authority’s next meeting.

The board went into executive session to discuss renting office space for a Utility Authority office. Lawler said no action was taken on the matter after the executive session.

In other business the board;

— Approved a waiver to allow a septic tank to be installed on property where David Armstrong plans to build a house in Poplarville. The house is some distance from the nearest manhole and about 43 feet higher than the proposed home site. The board approved that waiver contingent on Armstrong connecting to utility authority services when they are available in his area.

— Approved North Hill phase V to build a waste water containment tank for a proposed subdivision pavilion contingent on Health Department approval and that the pavilion connects to Utility Authority service when available.

The next meeting is at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3, in the Poplarville City Hall.