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BILLY BROOMFIELD: Form a task force on Jackson County Utility Authority

Broomfield
Broomfield SUN HERALD

As the mayor of Moss Point, I recommended my city join other Jackson County municipalities -- Pascagoula, Ocean Springs and Gautier -- in forming the Jackson County Utility Authority Task Force. As your elected mayor, and former member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, there is one main reason for our working together to move Moss Point and Jackson County forward.

We believe there are strong reasons to work together to make changes to the way we are doing business. We are not trying to dismantle the Jackson County Utility Authority. We are simply asking for Jackson County to have the same transparency and accountability with our utility authority that the other utility authorities already have. We recommend giving the local governments of Jackson County the discretion to appoint an elected official if they so choose, and allow local governments to remove an appointee, and make the terms four years instead of six.

It saddens me to say that I have recently heard from some individuals that the cities' concerns are "self-interested fights between the cities and JCUA." Nothing could be further from the truth so I felt it was time for Moss Point to set the record straight as to why we are seeking answers from the JCUA:

-- This is not about the sitting board of directors for the JCUA. Moss Point has the highest respect for the job that the appointed board of directors for the JCUA does and especially our representative, Mr. Jackie Elly.

-- This is not about the rate CUA charges to treat the wastewater for our cities. If you speak to anyone from the JCUA, they will argue their rate is in line with other authorities. I am not disagreeing with this fact. What is not being told is that there are two parts to the equation in determining what a city must pay to the CUA.

First, it is the millions of gallons of wastewater per day multiplied by the rate JCUA charges for treatment. In Moss Point (including the Escatawpa area), the millions of gallons of treated wastewater per day has had very little change since 2005. If anything, the number has decreased.

It is the second part of the equation that leaves us scratching our heads. The second part is the operating expenses that are passed on to the cities of Moss Point, Pascagoula, Gautier and Ocean Springs. Despite our steady, if not declining, amount of wastewater treated, JCUA has continued to increase the operating expenses that are passed on to our cities. So, while our wastewater is staying the same, our cost to the JCUA is rapidly increasing. As it is our duty to make sure the bills are paid, we want to know the reasons why.

-- I want to be clear. We understand the need for infrastructure improvements and the need to increase staff and to give raises. Unfortunately, Moss Point has not had the option to do this for several years because we had to make choices with what is the best use of our taxpayer dollars.

I would like to give you one example. Moss Point had a high percentage of gas loss a few years back that was highly publicized and resulted in the PSC setting a hearing in Jackson County on the issue. The gas loss required us to put all extra funds toward improvements to the gas system. In doing this, we had to sacrifice raises for our hard working employees and new cars for our police force, and we had to refrain from hiring additional employees in public works, which has been grossly understaffed. We also had to delay infrastructure improvements on water and sewer while we worked through the gas projects. If money were not an issue, Moss Point would have liked to have included, raises, jobs and additional infrastructure in its budget, but we had to make sacrifices. These sacrifices have paid off as we are now down to a 1 percent gas loss. I want to know if JCUA is making these same sacrifices.

Since the JCUA operating expenses are passed through to the cities, we have to pass the cost on to our residents. There are too many unknowns right now for us to be able to forecast what's coming around the bend with the JCUA. In today's economic times, we believe there are indeed strong incentives to be frugal.

Again, 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, and allow local governments to remove an appointee, and make terms four years instead of six.

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