Conference committee named for bill that would ban property value-based water billing

Jackson's water sewer billing office.
Jackson's water sewer billing office.
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 9:02 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Six people at the Mississippi State Capitol have been tasked with hammering out details of a measure that could prevent your water bill from being based on the value of your home.

This week, the House and Senate named conferees to the committee to come up with a final version of H.B. 698.

The bill, which was authored by Rep. Shanda Yates, would prevent municipalities from charging customers for water on anything but usage.

The North Jackson representative was among the conferees named by the House. Others include Reps. Scott Bounds and Brent Anderson.

“The goal is to simply ensure that we have a fair and equitable billing system for water/sewer,” Yates said in a text. “That has always been the goal and remains the goal.”

On the Senate side, conference committee appointees include Sens. Joel Carter, Rita Parks and Walter Michel.

Michel, represents District 25, which includes Northeast Jackson and parts of Madison County. “My interest in the bill will be to make darn sure that no one’s water bill is based on the value of their home or property,” he said.

Carter introduced his own version of 698, which died in a House committee after passing out of the Senate.

Conference Committee members appointed to hash out H.B. 698.
Conference Committee members appointed to hash out H.B. 698.(Special to WLBT)

Michel says several issues must be sorted out. “Some of the small municipalities have expressed concerns on it. They want to make sure that they can still have flat-rate billing,” he said. “Some rural areas have a flat rate for the first amount... up to a certain number of gallons used in a month and then they charge you over that. And some people never meet the minimum.”

Yates introduced the bill in response to constituents’ concerns about a new water billing structure change proposed by Jackson Interim Third-Party Manager Ted Henifin.

Henifin was appointed receiver over Jackson’s water system in November. This year, he proposed doing away with the city’s current rate structure, which charges customers for water used, and replacing it with one based on the true assessed values of their homes and businesses.

“I don’t hear from my constituents about a lot of things, but there was a huge initial outcry about this particular issue,” Yates said previously. “So, I told them that I would look into it and see what, if anything could be done.”

Floor votes on H.B. 698
House83-26, with 4 not voting and 7 voting present
Senate37-12, with 1 voting present
House Declined to concur with amended version

Yates represents Northeast Jackson, which has some of the most valuable properties in the city. Ratepayers there could face higher bills as a result of Henifin’s proposal.

Henifin says the change is needed, in part, to bypass the city’s troubled meter system, and to make fees more equitable for poorer families. Rates would be capped at $150 for customers on the high-end, he says.

Michel said the legislation in its current form, despite being spurred on by Jackson, could have an impact on other cities and water associations in the state.

“Jackson’s inability to produce water bills, Jackson’s inability to keep up with water accounts, Jackson’s inability to have water meters to work properly,” he said. “When you start taking care of all the problems that Jackson has, there’s a lot of water boards and rural water associations that don’t have these problems.”

“So, you’ve got to be real careful,” he continued. “There’s so many moving parts to the darn thing, because Jackson has a proven inability to get out bills on a monthly basis.”

Deadline for final adoption for conference reports is Monday, March 27, according to the Legislature’s website.

Despite the challenges, Michel is confident issues with the measure can be hammered out by that deadline. “We’ll be in session all weekend,” he said. “We’ve got Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday to deal with it.”

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