By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Mayor Bill Norris has vetoed an amendment to an amendment to the Water Resources Management Ordinance that would have lowered water and sewer rates for industrial customers.
The amendment would have returned the rates for just the industrial classification to the level they were before a increase aldermen approved just ten months ago in March. Rates for residential and non-profit rural water associations would have remained at the higher level.
The measure was passed by a 2-1 vote at a special called meeting Jan. 16. During that meeting, Norris presented figures from a water rate study that showed the old rates did not cover the city’s costs.
Under state law, the mayor had ten days to approve the amendment by signing it or returning it unsigned. The mayor hand delivered the unsigned ordinance along with a letter addressed to aldermen to city hall Monday at 10:50 a.m.
In his letter, Norris explained that the rate structure set forth in the amendment resulted in an “impermissible fee arrangement for municipal services in violation of applicable state law.”
During the pre-vote discussion at the January meeting, Norris said that Tom Abernathy of the Mississippi Rural Water Association had done a rate study for the city and his figures showed that it cost the city 59 cents per thousand gallons just to bring the water to ground level.
When expenses are added, the cost rises to $1.36 per thousand gallons to deliver water to the customer, according to Abernathy’s research.
Norris said that he had spoken to the Attorney General’s office and was told that it was “against the state constitution to sell water for less than it cost us to produce.”
The mayor added in his letter that he did not believe the lower rate structure provided for the water system’s functioning and growth as required by Mississippi law.
“This conclusion is also supported by the additional requirements of water systems recently enacted by the Environmental Protection Authority. These requirements have likewise been brought to the board’s attention at prior meetings,” Norris wrote.
The mayor concluded that he appreciated the importance of industry in our community. “However,” he wrote, “I am compelled to veto the Ordinance based upon the reasons set forth above.”
Both Norris and Water Department Manager Morris Surrette have expressed concern repeatedly that the old rates were too low and did not cover costs.
Someone is going to have to pay for revamping the system and meeting new government regulations, Norris said and added that the entire burden could have fallen on residential customers and the water associations if the industrial customers weren’t paying their fair share.
This is only the third time Norris has used his veto power during his term as mayor. The first time was over a measure to change financial procedures and the second was to block the renaming of a street.