Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said at a press conference on Monday, July 12, 2021, that a debt-forgiveness program for water bills is now available in the city if residents fulfill certain conditions. Photo courtesy City of Jackson
The City of Jackson is forgiving water-bill debt for residents who fulfill certain conditions. Mayor Chowke A. Lumumba announced at a press briefing yesterday that the program will start on Monday, July 19. House Bill 359 authorized the City and Mississippi Public Utility Staff Executive Director Sally Doty to decide on rules guiding the plan.
Jackson residents can call the Water Sewer Billing Administration at 601-960-2000 to find out if they qualify for the program based on their income profile. The department will, at the beginning of the program, announce expanded hours to accommodate people signing up for the benefits.
The Forgiveness Options
"The first program is the low-income assistance plan on any water-sewer arrangement for 24 months. To participate, you must show proof of participation in the Mississippi Home Corps Emergency Rental Assistance,” the mayor announced Monday.
Lumumba explained that the solution is necessary to rectify the water-billing debacle the City faces. “We know that we have had failed equipment and failed devices, which has translated into billing challenges across the city,” he said, “It has led to not only challenges with our residents, but it has led to challenges for our revenue within the City of Jackson."
The City will require those who qualify to pay the current bill for three months, apply for federal and state utility aid programs, and pay an additional $10 over the current bill for the next 24 months in order to set aside the remaining debt.
"The second plan is the courtesy payment arrangement plan for customers who do not qualify as low income. (It is) available for customers with one-inch meters," Lumumba explained. "They must pay the current bill for three months, they must apply for federal and state utility aid programs, and must pay 40% (of debt) over a 24-month period of time."
"Additionally, there will be a special circumstance panel for those experiencing extreme financial hardship," he added. "The special circumstance(s) may include, but are not limited to (billing) error, equipment failure, uncollectible (debt) or unforeseen damage due to weather."
Those who are not getting bills will get a flat rate, which they will pay to qualify for the program.
Legislation Enabled Forgiveness Strategy
"We would be unable to do this had it not been for the passage of this recent legislation. The state constitution has limited the ability, in the past, to present this type of alternative. And so we're doing so to make certain that we give our residents every opportunity to become current (on their payment)," Lumumba said.
"For special circumstances, you still have the ability to contact the water business administration,” he added. “They have been negotiating and dealing with the larger accounts over time. But the larger businesses are larger entities, which would have the larger pipes.”
Doty said coming up with the program has been difficult, and she commended the City for its commitment and transparency. "I've had great conversations with members of the Legislature, and we've all worked to come up with the best solution to move Jackson's water and sewer forward," she said at the press briefing.
"We've had good conversations, difficult conversations, and I think (we have) come to a very good conclusion. We have a very good final plan that will work to make the city of Jackson's water much more financially stable."
The mayor also announced a publicity event in partnership with the Mississippi Home Corporation to help people take advantage of federal assistance toward paying rent, gas, electricity, and water-sewer bills over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. They will hold the event at the Trade Mart Center at the Mississippi Fairgrounds from noon to 3 p.m. on Friday, July 23, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 24. More information is available at ms-ramp.com/era or by calling 601-533-8401 or toll-free at 1-888-725-0063.
Water Cut-off Begins Sept. 1, 2021
The mayor said residents need to take advantage of all the available avenues for payment assistance before the City starts cutting off services because of nonpayment of water bills on Sept. 1.
"Due to the pandemic, the City of Jackson made the decision to suspend water cutoffs for residents who had not paid their bills; we thought it was an important step, as we have been fighting a pandemic and for the hygienic needs of our residents," he said.
"We have the resources available to help our residents. This is the time that we call on our residents to become engaged and involved and take advantage of resources that are available to you in order to become current on all of your bills that you may be behind on or suffering at this time in terms of the payments that you need to make."
Email story tips to city/county reporter Kayode Crown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @kayodecrown.