Rep. Shanda Yates, I-Jackson, presents legislation in House Chamber at the Mississippi Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Jackson. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis - Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
The legislation comes after a federal third-party administrator proposed billing Jackson rate payers for water based on property value instead of actual metered usage.
The Mississippi House and Senate have agreed on legislation that requires cities to bill those using water, wastewater and sewer utilities based on the actual metered usage.
The legislation – HB 698 – specifically states that bills shall reflect services supplied at actual costs. In the event a meter is not working or cannot be read for billing, a city would be required to enact a reasonable fee based on prior usage at that location for up to six months. The meter must be repaired or re-placed within that time period, per the law.
In the event a city is unable to meet the meter requirements, a bill could be based solely on volumetric usage and a flat fee rate could be issued for billing. That flat fee rate can be different for classifications of users but must not be discriminatory. Calculation of the utility bill in these situations would be left up to the city’s governing authority.
State Senator Joel Carter (R) presented the conference report to the Senate on Wednesday and said small changes were made to include flat fee billing for communities that do not have meters in place, such as Long Beach. Their current flat fee is $80 per month which includes wastewater, sewer, and garbage.
This issue comes at a time when the city of Jackson continues to deal with major water issues resulting from improper billing and maintenance.
Currently, a third-party administrator appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Ted Henifin, is in place managing the Jackson water system. Since being placed in charge of the Jackson water system, he offered a plan that would have billed Jackson water users based on property value instead of actual usage.
Henifin claimed his proposal would reduce the Jackson water system’s dependence on meters, which the city has struggled to maintain and properly read over the years. However, with the passage of the legislation to restrict such utility billing to metered usage, Henifin’s proposal is likely dead.
State Representative Shanda Yates (I) authored the legislation. She represents portions of Jackson. She said the legislation being enacted ensures fair billing to all rate payers in Mississippi.
“The goal has always been to ensure a fair and equitable billing method for all rate payers across the state and we have worked to pass a bill that will accomplish that,” said Representative Shanda Yates (I).
However, State Senator Barbara Blackmon (D) said she believed that the third-party administrator should have more time to assess and make a recommendation for Jackson’s water system instead of passing such legislation.
“I do not think that we should tie his hands in such an early part of the process. This man is very knowledgeable, he is viewed as the ‘guru’ for water and sewer. I think we ought to respect his credentials and his abilities and allow him to make the determination as to what is in the best interest for the billing for the citizens of Jackson,” said Blackmon.
Blackmon added that she considers the legislation very reactionary and billing decisions should be left up to individual cities.
The conference report was adopted with considerable bipartisan support in both chambers.