By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Utility customers in small towns and rural areas deserve the same choices as those offered in more populated areas of the state, the northern district public service commissioner said last week.
Brandon Presley was making his 131st town hall meeting appearance, “to make sure that we are hearing the issues in your community and we’re dealing with them as best we can.”
“Or, at lease we can answer your questions about any complaints or problems you are having,” he told about 50 people gathered at the Water Valley Courthouse March 10.
Presley said that Mississippi has seen over the past two years the coldest winters in recent history. And, he added, the highest spike in the price of propane. “We had folks with outrageously high heating bills just trying to stay warm this winter and last.”
“I feel like we should try to do everything we can to get you as many choices for heating your home, cooling your home and running your utilities as possible,” Presley said. “The biggest choice people in rural Mississippi are missing today is the lack of natural gas service.”
The natural gas companies of the state were asked to come to the Public Service Commission with a plan to get natural gas to rural communities.
Presley explained that there are a number of factors involved in getting natural gas into rural areas, number one being how many people are interested in it.
He added that an area that serves as an example is Abbeville, where 135 people have committed to sign up for natural gas. The cost will be $224 per household and they have to agree to take service within a year.
Presley said that the reason he brought up the Abbeville example is that he knows there are people in Yalobusha County who want to get natural gas service. “We’ll do everything we can to help you. A lot of it depends on the interest shown by people in the community.”
“It’s really basic. If one person is interested it probably isn’t going to happen. But, if we have a hundred or 25 and it is just a small cost, we can probably get that done,” he said. “We have to work with them to figure out a way to make it work economically.”
Presley emphasized that he wasn’t trying to make people swap propane for natural gas or hurt propane dealers, but he wanted rural Mississippians to have the same choices as people in downtown Jackson.
Presley listed some of the other issues on his to do list including bringing high-speed Internet service to as many areas as possible. “The bottom line is Internet service today is just as important as when telephones were put in, roads were built and running water came to communities,” he added.
“It is something that Mississippians want and something you almost have to have in 2015,” the commissioner continued. “And, it is good for economic development.”
Second on his list is cell phone service. “We’ve been able to make some progress in this county. I can remember when you would come to Water Valley and you couldn’t get a cell phone signal with a swat team and a search warrant.”
Presley said that many of the problems have been resolved. “Have they all been fixed? No. But, we have made progress.”
Third on the list is programs to help small businesses. “They are the most forgot about, under-appreciated, and left out group out there. The reason is they are not able to hire lobbyist and do the other things big business is able to do,” he said. “Yet, they are the people creating the jobs.”
Presley noted that two out of every three jobs created today in Mississippi are created by small business owners. “The folks you see on Main Street. They’re the folks hiring people,” he said.
“They don’t get bailed out like the big banks do. They don’t pack up and go to China…or Mexico. They are the folks who are keeping their jobs in the United States of America and in Mississippi.”
Presley said that three years ago he got together with the utility companies and asked them to come up with a plan to make it just a little bit easier on small business owners. “We’ve got a program in place today that will help a business open up in Water Valley, Mississippi through Centerpoint, the natural gas company.
Incentives included reduced or waived deposits and a 15 percent discount for the first two years of business.
The commissioner also explained the “No Call List” and the success his office has had stopping some telephone solicitors in Mississippi.
The last half of the meeting was spent answering questions from citizens on topics ranging from cell phone and internet service to natural gas.