JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – The Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership is calling for the creation of a regional authority to govern Jackson’s water system.
In a letter sent Tuesday to local, state and congressional leaders, the group that represents 1,400 businesses recommended several steps to reform the city’s system amid an ongoing water crisis that has left dozens of thousands of customers without water at the beginning of the month.
Among the steps, chamber leaders are calling for the creation of a “regional public service model within the existing service area”.
“Regional governance is a model that has proven successful in other parts of Mississippi and across the country,” wrote Chamber President and CEO Jeff Rent. “Jackson’s utility system serves Byram, parts of rural Hinds County, Ridgeland and eastern Madison County. Allow members of the regional authority to share power and responsibility.
Under the authorities, several government agencies would have representatives on a board of directors, which would be responsible for setting fares, collecting bills and meeting infrastructure needs.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in an interview with Roland Martin on Monday that he does not support the idea.
Martin, a nationally recognized podcaster and MSNBC contributor, was interviewing the mayor as part of a live event for the Poor People’s Campaign.
“The last option they came up with is the regionalization option, saying you need more taxpayers on the system in order to keep it going,” Lumumba said. “On the surface, it makes sense. But when you think about it a little more critically, it falls apart entirely… When we look at a regionalization model, what you have to understand is that when you bring in these other cities, yes, you have more people paying into the system, but… you’re expanding the scope of your responsibilities. Now you have to take care of their factories… You have to take care of all their infrastructure problems.
Meanwhile, he said that under a regional system, Jackson’s infrastructure would likely not be prioritized in favor of other authority members.
It remains to be seen whether other municipalities would like to join an authority with Jackson.
In a previous interview, Clinton Mayor Phil Fisher said he wouldn’t support the move and said his city had never considered it. Like Lumumba, he would be concerned that his city’s taxpayers would pay to meet infrastructure needs in Jackson, rather than Clinton.
“I heard a report from Mayor Lumumba saying they needed $200 million,” he said. “They would come to Clinton and say, ‘OK, your share of $200 million is here to get the part of the system you want to use. “”
The chamber goes on to say that the state should be represented on the board, but should not be its owner and operator.
“Jackson’s recent water system failure has impacted every home and hurt every business in the city,” Rent wrote. “This water crisis is also affecting communities outside of Jackson and across the state and inhibiting our ability to attract new businesses and residents to Magnolia State.”
Jackson’s water crisis began on August 29, when equipment failures at the OB Curtis water treatment plant led to a dramatic drop in water production. As a result, the pressure in the system dropped and many customers were left without water or water pressure.
Curtis serves approximately 43,000 connections. The plant, located in Ridgeland near Barnett Reservoir, is licensed to treat up to 50 million gallons of water per day through its two treatment processes. However, on August 31, the plant produced just 16 million gallons, according to figures from the Mississippi Emergency Management Association.
The chamber joins others who have also called for the creation of a regional authority, including Representative Shanda Yates. “It is agonizingly evident that the city does not have the resources to deal with the current emergency or to properly maintain the water and sewer system in the future,” she wrote in a letter. from September 1. “As such, it is time for the state to take an active role in addressing this public health crisis.”
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