Jackson County

Cities fed up with changing sewage costs in Jackson County

PASCAGOULA -- Cities in Jackson County have come together to fight the Jackson County Utility Authority on its recent price increases for treating city sewage.

The four cities have put together $120,000 for a lobbyist to the Legislature this year, in hopes of changing the law to give cities more access to setting rates and decisions on sewerage improvements.

Tonight, the executive director of the utility authority and its chairman of the Board of Trustees plans to meet with the Pascagoula City Council and answer 20 questions the cities have proposed. Pascagoula leaders believe a $1.8 million increase over the last three years is "over the top."

Councilwoman Brenda Simpkins calls JCUA's "a budget-based billing method for charging cities." She said the district sets a budget and then divides the cost among the cities.

Beginning this week, homeowners in Pascagoula will pay a flat increase of $20.25 more each month to cover the higher cost of having the city's sewage treated by the district. Businesses will pay $27.50 more.

The cities are asking for a change in the law that set up the JCUA.

Gautier's Mayor Gordon Gollott took to Facebook, urging residents to call their legislators before the Feb. 23 deadline for getting bills out of committee in the Legislature.

Gollott said there are three main things the cities want changed -- they want to be able to recall JCUA board members they appoint, they want board members to serve for four years instead of six, and they want to be able to appoint elected officials to the board.

Gautier City Manager Samantha Abell explained that an elected official on the utility district board would be more sensitive to the needs of the taxpayers, their constituents, and more likely to watch the bottom line and insist on cost-saving measures.

For most of the decade since Hurricane Katrina, the sewage bill Jackson County cities paid has fluctuated little. But over the last three years it has changed dramatically.

Simpkins said that during the same time, the amount of sewage Pascagoula sent for treatment has changed little.

"They don't charge based on flow," she said. "Our flow hasn't changed. What's increased is their budget."

She said she wrote a four-page post on Facebook on the issues recently.

"I know it was long, but the facts needed to get out there," she said. "We're being told our flow is up. Our flow hasn't doubled, but our bill has."

And on top of that, the JCUA has put the cities on notice that they are now charging for environmental assessments on all new businesses and construction in the county.

"Any and all development in Jackson County has to go through them first," Simpkins said. "And the cities must provide monthly reports on building permits. We have to provide the data."

So far Coast legislators have introduced six bills on the issue -- two in the senate, SB 2668 and SB 2666, and four in the house, HB 1228, HB 1227, HB 1226 and HB 1218.