Jackson councilman worries EPA/DOJ agreed order could hurt ratepayers

Published: Nov. 20, 2022 at 5:31 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - One Jackson city councilman is raising concerns that the recent order hammered out by the city and the federal government will have a negative impact on Jackson’s water ratepayers.

“I’m concerned that the citizens - elderly citizens, young families who receive water bills that are not legitimate water bills - that they will be held to the responsibility to pay bills they do not owe,” Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes said. “Some of these bills are as high as $10,000.”

Last week, the council approved an interim stipulated order the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice.

The order, which will be filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, spells out steps the city must take in the short-term to bring its water system into compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

It comes about two months after the Department of Justice said it would take legal action against the city if it did not come to the table to negotiate a “judicially enforceable” agreement governing its water system.

As part of the deal, a third-party manager will be brought in to oversee compliance efforts. However, the exact role of that party has not been made public.

City Attorney Catoria Martin said the order likely would not be made public until it signed by the mayor and filed with the District Court. That process could take several more days.

Documents obtained by WLBT, meanwhile, showed that during the council’s executive session last week, the order was modified to give a third-party manager “the responsibility to operate, maintain and control the Water Sewer Business Administration (WSBA).”

WSBA and independent program manager.
WSBA and independent program manager.(WLBT)

Stokes, who was not at that meeting and not privy to discussions in executive session, was unsure who the third-party manager would be, and would not speculate.

“But my understanding is their authority is going to be wide-ranging in terms of him being over a lot in dealing with the city of Jackson and dealing with water,” he said.

Stokes also is worried that the stipulated order means the procedures the city currently has in place to allow customers to appeal their water bills will no longer be in effect.

“Somone from the council should have asked whether or not we are under receivership,” he said. “This is an agreed order we have with the EPA and others, which must be signed off on by a federal judge. I hope the judge would explore all things that’s taking place with this order.”

The council is expected to discuss the order again at its meeting on November 22, and Stokes will likely have a chance to bring up his questions then. “I think there must be some kind of appeal process,” he said. “I think people who do not owe these water bills should not be forced to pay them.”

The council order authorizing the city attorney to enter into an agreement with EPA/DOJ is below.

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