Council will hold public hearing on water system

Published 1:54 pm Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A public hearing will be held on Jan. 19, to gather the community’s opinion on what the city should do with its water system.

The hearing will aim to collect public opinion on what should be done with the system. Currently there is council consideration of turning the system over to the Pearl River County Utility Authority, although some council members are hesitant to make a decision they may regret later.

The topic came up during the council’s Tuesday evening meeting after there was discussion about acknowledging an agreement for the city to purchase water from the Utility Authority. Before a decision was made on that matter council member Wayne Gouguet addressed the need to hold some form of a workshop to discuss the possibility of turning over the city’s water service to the Utility Authority.

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Mayor Ed Pinero Jr. agreed that the city could not afford to continue to charge flat rates for water service. It has been mentioned in previous Utility Authority meetings that that flat rate has been hurting utility collections by the Utility Authority. The Utility Authority owns and operates the city’s sewer system and sewer rates are based on water usage.

Utility Authority board president Steve Lawler said the city has been charging a flat rate for a bout a year and the lack of concrete financial records from the city on those charges hurt the Utility Authority’s last audit. Lawler said he would like to get the situation resolved before their next audit. Lawler offered the Utility Authority’s assistance, including installing new city water meters to help correct the problem.

“Our problem right now is we just don’t have a lot of time to get this done,” Lawler said.

Council member Larry Breland expressed caution before rushing to bring the situation to a resolution. He reminded Lawler that the situation causing the city not to read residential water meters was inherited by most of the current administration and they should explore every option in order to make the best decision.

Lawler reminded the council that there are several Utility Authority projects that are on hold due to this situation.

After some additional discussion the council decided to hold a public hearing at 4 p.m. on Jan. 19, to gather community input on how to handle the situation. One or members of the Utility Authority will be at the hearing as well.

After setting that hearing date the council acknowledged receipt of the water system purchase agreement from the Utility Authority.

Police Chief Jim Luke announced at council the meeting that the Police Department has been reaccredited, as of Nov. 21, 2009. He said the department is one of only three municipal law enforcement agencies statewide to hold national accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. An expanded story concerning the department’s continued accreditation status will run in a future issue of the Picayune Item.

Some long awaited paving projects are moving forward to the initial phase, though with less funding than originally anticipated. Jeffery Lee, an engineer with Neel Schaffer, said the Mississippi Department of Transportation recently announced the end to the Surface Transportation Program. The end of that program means there will be about $24,000 fewer state funds to conduct paving work to Palestine Road, Crosby Street, North Beech and North Main. However since bids came in lower than anticipated the scope of the work will not change.

“It’s the same thing as your dad giving you $20 to buy something and when you get to the store it’s $15, except you don’t get to bring the $5 home,” Lee said.

The downside is that paving along Palestine will most likely end at the intersection of Neal Road, which is about 750 feet short of the city limits, Lee said. However Lee suggested the city could use money set aside as part of their STP match funds to finish the job.

The council approved a motion to accept the bid tabulation for the overlay improvements contingent on MDOT’s acceptance. Pinero said expanding the scope of the work to pave all the way to the city limits along Palestine Road will be discussed between City Manager Harvey Miller and MDOT representatives.

At the end of the meeting a citizen had a complaint about her son being pulled over repeatedly by the same police officer and him refusing to let her drive the vehicle home instead of having to pay for tow truck service. The citizen, announced at the meeting only as Mrs. Whitehead, said during one of those incidents a tow truck driver who represented Gary’s Towing threatened to charge her double the rate and drop her car to cause damage to it after she became irate over the fact she could not just drive the car home. When she paid for the service, $75, she did not receive change for the $80 she gave the driver. The driver said he did not have change and to this day Whitehead says she still has not received her change or a receipt.

On Sunday her son was again pulled over for a traffic violation and arrested. This time a separate tow truck service was called and only picked the vehicle up and lowered it in the same spot, but still charged a fee. Whitehead asked the council to look at the city ordinance that mandates it is the officer’s discretion to have a car towed in such an incident so that a vehicle can be driven home by another family member if the driver is arrested.

At the end of her address she said she hopes she and her family are not harassed for her speaking out. At the end of the meeting Whitehead declined to give the Item her first name.

Pinero asked her to stay after the meeting to discuss the matter with Luke and Miller, which she did.

The council later went into a closed session to determine if they need an executive session. The agenda lists two matters for executive session, a personnel matter and a contractual matter with Bulldog Construction. Decisions on those matters were not available by press time Tuesday night.

In other business the council;

— Approved the purchase of a 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe by the Police Department for $34,391 using Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funds.

— Accepted a grant from the Mississippi Library Commission of $143,872 to replace the roof on the Margaret Read Crosby Memorial Library.

The next meeting will be held Jan. 19, at 5:30 p.m. after the public hearing.