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Big Level Water members get some answers

Stone County Enterprise of Wiggins, Mississippi

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More than 40 members of the Big Level Rural Water Association attended a question-and-answer session at the Big Level Community Center last Tuesday.

The meeting had been called by Judy Breland, Stone County Coordinator for the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Breland has a farm served by the water association and had questions concerning recent news articles about the association.

"We really need some answers to understand what the options are," she said.

Big Level, which is operated under the authority of the Carnes Rural Water Association, is facing approximately $4.5 million in debt, interest and penalties owed to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The debts are the result of loans which made construction of the Big Level system possible.

Yet, despite the debt, many members of the association do not get billed for their water use.

"We don't get bills," Breland said. "I think I've got two or three bills in the year-and-a-half I've been connected to the system."

When the question of who wasn't getting water bills was asked, nearly everyone in the room raised their hands.

"I have not received a bill in three years," one person shouted.

Bobby Walters, President of the Carnes #2 Water System, said that was because Bill Morris of Morris Waterworks was not properly serving in his role as water operator for the system.

The Big Level system is actually known as the Cames #2 system.

Several people asked why Morris was not being held accountable and Walters said the board of directors could not meet because there was not a quorum.

"Who is on the board?" someone asked

"Me," replied Walters. "I'm the only one."

Asked why that was, he said it was because everybody else on the board had quit.

"The only reason I'm still on that board is so y'all continue to get water," he said.

At Breland's request, Jason Barrett, representing Mississippi State University Community Development, gave an overview of rural water systems and utility authorities.

In addition, Dick O'Neal, President of the Stone County Utility Authority was on hand.

"You all have a certificated area in which you hold the rights to provide water and sewer services and nobody can take that away from you," Barrett told those in attendance. "Good, clean, safe and uninterrupted water service is what I think you want."

One option to see that safe, clean, uninterrupted service continues is a proposal by the Stone County Utility Authority to either assume operations of the system or purchase it outright.

The largest impediment to either of those things taking place is the debt owed to USDA.

The SCUA has issued requests for quotes for water system appraisal services and water system review appraisal services for rural water system infrastructure.

A mouthful, but the appraisals will go a long way to determining whether the system is worth as much as what is owed to the USDA.

"We expect to have those quotes back in a matter of two weeks or so," O'Neal said.

Many of those in attendance at last week's meeting were still grumbling as they left, but O'Neal thought the meeting served a good purpose.

"I think some questions were answered and the air was cleared to some degree," he said. "We'll just have to continue moving forward and see how everything plays out."

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Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015

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