The Jackson City Council on December 19 abstained from voting on the water and sewer rate increases proposed by Ted Henifin, the city’s federally appointed water and sewer system’s Interim Third Party Manager.
Under the terms of the Stipulated Order signed on to by the City of Jackson, the state of Mississippi, and the federal government, Henifin has the authority to set the new rates independent of the city’s support for them.
The current average monthly bill of $66.81 for a single-family household includes the cost of water, sewer usage, and a service fee of $11.55.Under the new rates proposed by Henifin, the typical single family household will pay an average of $76.00 per month. The new rate is based on a fixed Availability Charge of $40 per month and a water Consumption Charge billed at the rate of $6 per 100 cubic feet. The average household uses an estimated 600 cubic feet monthly for an estimated cost of $36. Adding the Availability Charge ($40) and the average water Consumption Charge ($36) gives the total of $76, the new average monthly rate.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients will pay a $10 Availability Charge and the water Consumption Charge estimated at $36, for a total monthly bill of $46. About 12,500 Jackson households receive SNAP benefits.
JXN Water was incorporated by Henifin in November 2022 to conduct the business of the Third Party Administrator. Financed in part under a federal omnibus bill, JXN Water operates independently of the mayor and city council, although its mandate requires regular consultation with the city’s public works director.
In midsummer 2022, Jackson’s water systems had finally completely collapsed after nearly a century of intermittent breakdowns, boil-water notices, floods, and a myriad of other problems that cried out for a solution.
On August 31, 2022, the Biden administration authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts to alleviate the hardship and suffering caused by the failure of Jackson’s water supply system.
The feds would pay 75 percent of all costs related to the emergency for the next 90 days, the announcement said.
By the end of that 90-day emergency, a three-way agreement between the city of Jackson, the state, and the federal government was adopted as an Interim Stipulated Order under the jurisdiction and direction of Federal Judge Henry Wingate. And on November 29, 2022, Henifin was appointed Interim Third-Party Manager (ITPM) of the Jackson water supply system, reporting directly to Judge Wingate.
Congress allocated $200 million in September 2022 and another $600 million in December 2022 to cover the costs of the water system repairs and to settle some of the system’s outstanding debts.
About 9 months later, the three parties agreed to a second Stipulated Order that would place the Jackson sewer system under Henifin’s management. With a new metering and billing system in place, the sewer operation is expected to pay its own way without an infusion of federal dollars.
Jackson’s problems with providing clean water for its ever-increasing population and business expansions has persisted since the installation of the J. H. Fewell Water Processing Plant in 1914 and the main O. B. Curtis water processing plant that was installed in the late 1980s.
The city’s continuing problem in meeting up to EPA standards for clean drinking water has kept it under the perpetual threat of fines, closure, or takeover by the feds or by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) — the state agency with the same oversight and enforcement responsibility as the EPA.
The EPA, Mississippi Department of Health, and the Justice Department held a public hearing August 1-31 on the status of the second Stipulated Order, inviting local water customers and stakeholders to offer comments. During the comment period, more than 660 people participated. The results show that 95 percent were in favor of placing the sewer system under Henifin, while 4 percent were opposed. The remaining one percent of comments were neither opposed nor in favor.