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Attorney General Opinion On City Board Agenda

Betty Ruth Swearengin (near right center) took part in her first meeting as an alderman Tuesday night. Swearengen was appointed by the board to fill the remainder of the term of her husband, Tommy Swearengen. Ward Three Alderman Thomas S. “Tommy” Swearengen died Feb. 11.

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – The city board met Tuesday night, April 7, for the regular monthly session. On the agenda was discussion of the March 16 Attorney General’s opinion regarding fees for utility services.

The meeting was scheduled to begin at 6:30, which is after the Herald’s press time. A full report of the session will be in the April 16 issue.

In the opinion, Special Assistant Attorney General Leigh Triche Janous responded that a municipality may not charge less for services than the cost to provide them. “As such would result in an unlawful donation.”

The issue first came up in December and was followed by a vote in January to amend an amendment to the Water Resources Management Ordinance lowering rates for industrial customers. The rates for residential and non-profit rural water associations were not considered in the proposal and would remain at the higher level.

Mayor Bill Norris had warned aldermen that that he had contacted 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.”

It was pointed out that a phone conversation is not a legal opinion and board attorney David Burns asked aldermen if they would like for him to look into the legalities.

“I would,” said Alderman Fred White, who had voted against the amendment.

The written opinion, dated March 16, was distributed to board members last week and included language that states that the city should make “a good faith effort in estimating its costs.”

Norris had the Mississippi Rural Water Association do a rate study for the city which showed that it cost 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 research by Tom Abernathy of the Mississippi Rural Water Association, an authority on water rates studies.

Norris said Tuesday that he would have Abernathy come to a future meeting of the board to explain the study to aldermen. (At the meeting, the issue was tabled for a future session.)

Other scheduled agenda items included discussion and votes on:

• a pool hall to be located at 595 Wise St.;

• the Electric Dept service policy;

• acceptance of City Clerk Vivian Snider’s certification from the Municipal Court Clerk Spring Seminar;

• quotes on equipment for Baker Street Park;

• purchase of drinking fountains;

• attendance by Billy Humphreys at the 2009 BOAM Summer Conference for training;

• attendance of city employees at the mosquito training seminar at Pearl on April 22 and 23;

• repair of heavy equipment;

• executive session to discuss a personnel matter.

(At the meeting two additional items were added to the agenda. One was discussion of a long range improvement plan for the water system and the second was a grant under the CHRP program to hire an additional policeman.)

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