Ferriday water contract under firePublished 12:05am Wednesday, January 9, 2013
FERRIDAY — Ferriday aldermen backed away Tuesday from a threat to break a contract with their water system management company after their attorney heatedly berated them for not seeking legal advice first.
The aldermen also showed a change of heart on the matter after receiving information they had not been privy to before from the owner of the company.
The aldermen had requested Glen Womack, owner of JCP Management, to appear before them to address questions they had about the company’s billing practices and management of water-system related issues such as the payment of a monthly water revenue bond.
Alderman Johnny Brown voiced the first concern about billing practice.
“I have had complaints that people are saying that when they come up here to get their water turned on, if someone lived in the house before them, they won’t get the water turned on until the bill (from the previous resident) is being paid,” Brown said.
Womack said the practice is part of making sure all service connections stay balanced.
“What we have found is that (someone may) have walked off on a bill, but (their) daughter put it in her name, then (her) uncle put it in his name,” he said. “We had to get that cleared up. With that approach we have had some unrest. It doesn’t matter to me whose name it is in, I charged this to John Doe, and in theory it is always John Doe. I don’t get into who drinks water, who uses water, I have to look at it on a per meter basis.
“If there is a current bill, we have to clear it up before we transfer the name.”
The aldermen vehemently disagreed with such an approach.
“Saying that I am going to be responsible for a bill that somebody moved out of, I don’t agree with that,” Alderwoman Gail Pryor said. “You are not being people-friendly, and you are not caring about the consumer, that is not the right approach to that. That blew everything out of the water for me. You start reading the meter from the time person moves in.”
When Mayor Gene Allen asked if they aldermen wanted to recommend to JCP that water accounts be turned off as soon as they were declared overdue, the aldermen balked at the idea.
Town Attorney Myisha Davis said that in the case of rental property, new residents could get a property owner to send a signed affidavit to the town stating that they were not the former residents who owed the bill, and JCP could start billing the new resident from the time they occupied the dwelling.
Alderwoman Gloria Lloyd asked why JCP wasn’t paying the town’s revenue bond note as all water revenue and management is directed through JCP. Allen said the company had paid it in the fall, but now other payments were coming due.
Expressing discontentment at the job the company was doing with the management of the system, Lloyd made a motion that the town immediately break its contract with JCP.
“It is like we are beating a dead horse,” she said.
Brown seconded the motion and asked Alderman Elijah “Steppers” Banks for his opinon on what he thought should be done about the contract, citing Banks’ long history of working with federal contracts.
Banks said Ferriday had erred in not creating an advisory board to ensure customers were getting the correct service.
“We don’t actually have anything in place to govern (JCP’s) performance,” he said.
“We can’t actually kick (JCP) out right now; we have got to have a fault if we don’t want to be sued. This contract ends in April. My recommendation is that the request for proposals goes back into the street, and we need to get more than three or five bids in.”
Womack said JCP hasn’t paid the bond because it doesn’t have the money coming through the town’s system yet.
JCP has paid electrical and chemical bills and has underbilled the town for its services for months, Womack said, and the town has to continue to increase its water revenue to be able to do what needs to be done.
“We are not here to bleed anybody down,” he said. “If you total everything, I have got a lot at stake that I have billed for — I am a partner in this thing.”
When the aldermen said they had not heard that information from the administration, Womack said it was because he had not shared it himself. He apologized to the aldermen, stating that he had planned to share the information at a meeting he has scheduled for this week.
After Womack spoke, Davis upbraided the aldermen for thinking about breaking the contract without seeking her advice first.
“Not for the first time did someone consult with me about this contract,” she said. “Common sense should tell you that you don’t ask a board member about a contract when I am sitting right here. You owe (the people of Ferriday) the right to act properly and without haste.”
Even if the aldermen decide to break the contract, they would have to give JCP notice of their intention and allow the company a chance to rectify any problems, Davis said.
Rather than voting to end the contract, the aldermen asked Davis to advise them about the contract after a scheduled Thursday meeting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that required Ferriday to have a third-party water management company in the first place.
In other news:
-The aldermen voted to amend the town’s personnel policy to require that any officers they send to the police academy be required to serve two years with the town or repay the police academy fees.
“We have people who we send to the academy, and they leave us the day they come out of the academy,” Allen said.
-The aldermen declared Jan. 21 a town-wide prayer vigil.
All clergy in town would be invited to say a prayer at the Will Haney Music Hall, Allen said.