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City offers utility theft amnesty, for short time

Picayune’s city council approved a motion at its Tuesday night meeting to give amnesty from legal action to any resident who has been stealing gas or water service, if the resident comes forward.

That offer is available only until May 31, and is an effort to find locations where losses of natural gas and water are occurring in the city.

Public Works Director Eric Morris said this will be one of a few measures the city will take to find all of the losses. When asked what the next step will be after the amnesty offer expires, he declined to elaborate.

“There is a plan ‘B’ if you will,” Morris said.

All city residents will be notified of the amnesty period by an advertisement in the Picayune Item, phone calls over Blackboard Connect and by letter, Morris said.

“If you’re doing this, you better come forward and lets us know and we’ll grant amnesty,” Morris said.

Over the course of the last four months, city employees have gone through the city in an effort to inventory every utility connection, but losses are still being recorded, leading city officials to suspect occurrences of illegal city utility use. Council member Wayne Gouguet asked for the current loss percentage, but Morris said he would need at least another month of usage to give an accurate figure. Morris said that through the investigation, city officials have identified an unspecified area of the city where utilities are illegally connected to homes.

A notice to be published in the paper states that after the amnesty period, any resident found to be stealing utilities will be punished by the fullest extent of the law, including jail time and fines.

To report illegal utility connections a resident can call 311 or 601-798-9770 and give the name and address of where the utilities are illegally connected.

The council also approved a motion to add more telephone lines coming into the police department, from 12 to 22, to avoid busy signals when call volumes spike, Maj. Ricky Frierson said. The initial cost for the upgrade will be $1,900, to be spread out over three monthly payments. Frierson said the cost of the upgrade will be funded by traffic citation fines.

The Picayune Police Department no longer will have motorcycle patrols. Council members approved a motion to sell the remaining two Harley Davidson motorcycle units at Turning Point Auction. Frierson said a lack of trained personnel for the vehicles have caused them to go unused. Department administrators believe it best to sell the vehicles at auction before they lose too much value. If the department decides a motorcycle patrol unit is feasible in the future, then more cycles can be purchased at that time, Frierson said.

The city hopes to get about $15,000 for both cycles, which are 2007 and 2008 year models.

In other business the council:

— Approved a motion to surplus the police department’s Mobile Command Center, which is a 1999 Gulfstream trailer, and sell it to Pearl River Recyclers because it is unsafe structurally and electrically for use as a command center.

— Approved a motion to sign a property damage release form from U.S. Specialty Insurance Co. for $2,000 to be used to repair runway damage at the airport caused by a minor crash landing.

— Tabled a motion to accept a nine acre land donation off Stemwood Drive, which could be converted into a city park and public trail, until more public input can be gathered.

— Approved a motion to spend $4,200 to install 3-inch piping for heating water supply and return for heating and air conditioning at Historic City Hall. Morris said the work will provide the city with a means to upgrade the building’s aging heating and cooling system.

The next scheduled meeting is at 5 p.m. May 15.