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Bill allowing state to take over Jackson’s water system dies in House

jackson boil water notice
Photo by SuperTalk Mississippi News

A bill to take Jackson’s water and sewer system out of the city’s control once the interim third-party manager’s term is up and place it into the hands of members appointed by state officials has died.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday failed to bring Senate Bill 2628, or the Mississippi Capitol Region Utility Act, out of committee, ending its run in the capitol. The legislation was referred to the House Public Utilities and House Accountability and Transparency committees but was not given the stamp of approval by the two groups prior to Tuesday’s deadline.

SB 2628, which was endorsed by Jackson’s interim third-party water and sewer manager Ted Henifin, was drafted to create an authority with nine members to oversee Jackson’s water and wastewater services. The members, who would have to meet specific requirements to be considered, would be appointed by the governor (5) and the lieutenant governor (4).

“After reviewing SB 2628, I believe this is a great foundation. It appears that many of the comments I provided during the last session regarding the bill introduced in 2023 were taken to heart and this bill now includes many of the suggestions I made at the time,” Henifin said, per the release from JXN Water.

Other elements of the legislation included:

  • All federal funds received to date are to be spent according to the direction of the interim third-party manager (ITPM) and the court.
  • Authority assumes ownership and operations and maintenance upon the date of termination of the order or earlier as ordered by the court.
  • Authority can issue bonds.
  • Authority develops own procedures and procurements less than $1 million.
  • Authority to consult with the court in appointing a president (paid for by the state) and to serve as ITPM’s deputy in the transition.
  • Board serves without salary.
  • Employees of the authority serve at will and pleasure of the president who sets compensation and benefits.
  • Nine-member board from very specific constituencies – five appointed by the governor and four by the lieutenant governor.
  • Set rates subject to Public Service Commission (PSC) review – PSC shall defer to the authority’s determination of what rates are just and reasonable absent a showing of manifest error.
  • State provides surety for short-term borrowing through 2029.
  • The bill authorizes the authority to purchase the water and sewer assets at fair market value.

The measure by the Senate follows years of complaints from high-ranking officials down to local residents that the city has inefficiently managed the essential public utilities for decades, ultimately causing the infamous Jackson water crisis to occur. Things hit a head in 2022 after the overwhelming majority of Jacksonians were left without clean drinking water or enough water pressure to flush toilets for 48 days due to years of chronic understaffing and deferred maintenance at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant.

In order to prevent constant boil-water alerts as has been mainstream in recent history or raw sewage being prevalent on multiple streets in the capital city, some state leaders deem it necessary to have another party oversee these operations in Jackson.

Those efforts proved futile during the current legislative session and are bound to come up again next year.

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