City Mulls Siemens Contract Amendment | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

City Mulls Siemens Contract Amendment

Kenneth Stokes/File photo.

Kenneth Stokes/File photo. Photo by Trip Burns.

Consider it an extra special meeting.

Today's regularly scheduled special meeting of the Jackson City Council has been pushed back to late tomorrow afternoon so that Mayor Tony Yarber can present his revised budget and so the council can vote on an amendment to the $91 million contract with Siemens.

Council members that the Jackson Free Press contacted this morning did not have details about the agenda item; mayoral spokeswoman Shelia Byrd said she would get more information this afternoon.

City officials recently announced that upgrades to the city's water system, which comprised $25 million of the total contract, are complete. A new billing system also went live late this month. With the new system, water customers will receive bills each month instead of every other month.

The other part of the Siemens contract, the installation of 65,000 water meters, has proved to be a lightning rod for controversy as questions surfaced about how the price tag ballooned to $91 million despite the fact that other larger cities implemented similar systems with less expense.

Last year, the city council asked independent consulting firm Raftelis Financial Consultants to review the Siemens contract and other components of the water and sewer administration. The firm's report revealed the need for better oversight at the Water and Sewer Business Administration for collections and hinted at possible fraud taking place in the office, which prompted the city council to order an investigation.

In May, the council hired Phil Hull, the former head of IRS Criminal Division office in Jackson, and Willie Hinds, a retired agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to lead the investigation for $25,000.

Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote said the investigation did not go as rapidly as hoped. On Aug. 25, the council voted 6 to 1 to extend the contract for 60 days for an additional $15,000 to complete interviews and finalize their report.

"It makes a statement that we're going to get to the bottom of things," Foote told council members.

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes, the lone dissenting vote, said he would only support the investigation if it focused on the Siemens contract instead of the city's water billing department.

"We hear a lot of rumors. We hear a lot of people got a lot of money," Stokes said of the Siemens contract, "but one thing we know is that poor people can't pay these high water bills."

Mayor Yarber will also present his revised budget proposal. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 3, at City Hall.

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