A forum published Feb. 10 in the Sun Herald claimed to be "the facts" from the Jackson County Utility Authority. Due to our growing concern with the JCUA, the cities of Pascagoula, Moss Point, Ocean Springs and Gautier have united to form a task force. Our goal is simple: We are seeking answers from the Jackson County Utility Authority as to why our citizens' rates have increased.
Here are our facts:
-- The Task Force is seeking accountability and transparency. The Jackson County Utility Authority points to annual audits by a private auditing firm and the State Auditor's Office. It claims it is accountable to various state offices and "there is plenty of accountability and transparency with regards to the operations of JCUA." As we in Jackson County know all too well, sometimes that is simply not enough. Audits confirm whether balance sheets reflect activities. Audits, however, do not speak to the soundness of policy decisions. Audits do not say whether money is spent wisely.
-- Though the JCUA interacts with various state agencies and undoubtedly strives to comply with specific directives and guidelines, no state office actually fully regulates it.
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-- It claims all its records are available to the public, which is indeed accurate. But what it failed to mention is one must jump through hoops to obtain the records by filing a Freedom of Information request with the Mississippi State Personnel Board.
-- The JCUA does not charge based on rates. JCUA conducts budget-based billing, meaning it sets a budget for the year and then set rates accordingly. The ability to set a budget to cover the cost of every need/desire, but not actually have to come up with the money yourself, is a luxury very few businesses or operations are afforded. Unfortunately, in this case, JCUA's budget is being funded by you, the ratepayer. Why should JCUA make financially prudent decisions? Who will ensure it does?
-- The JCUA mentioned our rates increased in 2015 due to running out of grant money. If that is indeed the case, we appreciate the Authority applying grant money to our rates to lower them in the first place. However, it was never communicated to the cities that their rates would be increasing. Unlike the JCUA, the cities do not set our budgets and bill accordingly. The cities operate under binding budgets, and unforeseen rate increases are truly detrimental.
In short, the task force was created to help get our citizens answers, and that is what we intend to do. That is why we are seeking legislation to aid in getting those answers.
The task force is simply seeking minor changes to state law regarding the organizational structure and service terms to make it comparable to the Coast's other neighboring utility authorities.
Our request to our legislators is simple: Give local governments in Jackson County the same transparency and accountability with our utility authority that you gave to ALL other utility authorities. Give local governments in Jackson County the discretion to appoint an elected official if they so choose, allow the removal of an appointee and make terms four years instead of six.
This forum was submitted by the Jackson County Utility Authority task force. Members are:
Ocean Springs: Aldermen Bobby Cox and Mike Impey, and attorney Robert Wilkinson
Pascagoula: Councilman Freddie Jackson, Councilwoman-At-Large Brenda Simkins, City Manager Joe Huffman, City Attorney Eddie Williams
Moss Point: Mayor Billy Broomfield, Alderman Robert Byrd and attorney Amy St. Pe
Gautier: Mayor Gordon Gollott, Councilman Rusty Anderson, City Manager Samantha Abell and attorney Josh Danos
Jackson County: Board President Troy Ross and Supervisor Randy Bosarge