Utility Sale Comes With Good And Bad For Customers

After ten years a Gulfport city councilman says his ward's wait for water and sewer service is nearing an end. The city council finalized a 6.5 million dollar deal to purchase Dedeaux Utilities at the meeting on Friday. Councilman Chuck Teston says the purchase is good for Orange Grove in more ways than one.

By linking Dedeaux Utilities with the utilities the city already owns, Teston says Gulfport will be able to expand its capability to provide water and sewer. Also, residential and commercial development projects that had been put on hold because of the lack of utilities will be able to move forward and therefore, increase tax revenues.

Teston says the people of Orange Grove are finally getting the services they've been promised.

"We were annexed January 2, 1994," he said. "I'm on septic and well. By the end of 2005 we'll have our citizens with water and sewer. God bless everybody because we've been waiting for so long so it'll be a good thing for everybody."

Soon the water bills of hundreds of people living in Orange Grove will transfer from a private utility company to the city of Gulfport. The trouble is customers' deposits won't be going with them. The city has sent out 1,600 letters informing residents that because of Gulfport's recent purchase of Dedeaux utilities, they'll have to pay a fee. Teston says it's not fair for citizens should have to pay twice for the same service.

Al Gilman is one the newest customers to Gulfport's utility system and he's not thrilled about the welcome. He says news of a deposit for water and sewer service couldn't have come at worse time.

"Everybody is spending their money on Christmas and now they've got to come up with extra money," said Gilman.

Again no services will be provided and no deposit submitted. In two day council Chuck Teston says he's taken dozens calls from people upset about this letter from the city. It says the old Dedeaux Utility customers will have a 50 dollar deposit along with a new account fee.

"I would like for the mayor and the council to go back and reconsider and waive all those fees because they've already paid a deposit with Dedeax Utilities," said Teston. "I think that would be double jeopardy and I'm going to fight very hard for the citizens out here. They're good people. To see they don't get that double jeopardy."

Not all of Gulfport's new customers are upset about the change. Rusty Gradeless say he'll gladly pay if switching to Gulfport cuts down on his billing hassles.

"Doesn't really bother me," said Gradeless."I'm just happy just to have one bill because having two bills and I didn't like that at all."

Teston says something can be done to help homeowners and he'll try to make the council see that at Tuesday's meeting.

"I think I can work it now if you have a good payment record for one year, you don't have to pay a $50 dollar deposit," he said. "If you got a poor payment record, let the water department work it out, let's don't impose those fees on them."

As of right now those who don't pay by January 8th will see their water run dry.

Meanwhile, Gulfport Mayor Ken Combs told WLOX news there shouldn't be any special treatment. He said the deposits paid to Dedeaux Utility have nothing to do with the city and the people who are transferring will have to pay just like everyone else who lives in Gulfport.