Tempers flared during Pascagoula town hall meeting

Tempers flared during Pascagoula town hall meeting

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - A town hall meeting in Pascagoula geared toward updating citizens on projects within the city took on a different tone Monday night. Council members wanted to give residents a relaxed setting to hear the information, but the meeting became a source of frustration when utility rates were brought up.

Pascagoula council members Freddy Jackson and Brenda Simkins put on the meeting at the Pascagoula Senior Center.

Though council members were able to address a myriad of topics, like improvements to Market St. and tourism, the bulk of the meeting centered around utility rate increases and the Jackson County Utility Authority's $18 million operating expense.

"I think the city wants to see where this $18 million budget is going," said one attendee.

"When the board took office in 2013, the bill from the Jackson County Utility Authority to the city was about $1.9 million a year. Now, in this past fall 2015, that bill has gone up to just shy of $4 million. That represents in excess of a 96 percent increase in a little under three years," said Pascagoula Councilwoman At-Large Brenda Simkins.

Simkins said she doesn't understand what's behind the Jackson County Utility Authority's rate increase. She said in order to pay for the $1.85 million increase, the city reflected it on customer's utility bills last month. However, there were some issues on the bills.

"What we experienced were some system errors in our billing such that some folks were charged sales tax incorrectly. Some folks were double charged the JCUA bill," said Simkins.

Simkins said customers who were overcharged will receive a credit in their March billing statement. Now, she's urging residents to reach out to lawmakers to push for House Bill 74, which calls for a study to be done on the costs associated with the Jackson County Utility Authority rate increase.

Jackson County Utility Authority member Mike Murphy was there answering some of the concerns at the meeting. He said the board wants to be as transparent as possible. He said some of the increase is due to an increase to manpower, more testing to maintaining permits associated with EPA and MDEQ and upgrades for efficiency.

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