Multi-County Community Agency is hoping to reach an agreement with the City of Meridian to help residents catch up on their water bills.
In a work session Tuesday, Multi-County Executive Director Ron Collier told the city council $172,000 earmarked for Meridian and Lauderdale County was going unspent because the social services agency did not have a signed contract with the city.
“I need someone who can work with me on mitigating the language of the contract to make it good for the City of Meridian so we can spend this money on the citizens who are in desperate need of help with their water bills,“ he said.
The funds, Collier said, had been sitting unused for more than seven months as he attempted to contact someone in city administration who could help negotiate the contract’s language.
“We need to get it spend before we send it back,” he said.
City Attorney Will Simmons said the main reason talks about a contract had failed so far was the language requiring the city to delay cutting off water due to unpaid bills. If the city allowed overdue accounts to continue with service, it would be considered an illegal donation.
“The problem there is we had to agree not to turn their water off for a certain period, and we can’t do that because that would be an illegal donation,” he said. “We can’t agree to say we aren’t going to chase you for that money.”
Mayor Jimmie Smith said another hiccup in using the funds is that the funds cannot be used for garbage service. Meridian residents, he said, receive charges for water and garbage on the same bill.
Collier said much of the contract was negotiable and he was open to having a conversation about what the city would need to move forward. Language requiring the city to delay cutting of service could potentially be taken out or edited, he said.
“I think one of the things I was told, it was a 90-day caveat where you couldn’t turn a person’s water off,” he said. “That can be taken out of the contract now based on what MDHS (Mississippi Department of Human Services) has told us.”
Simmons said taking out that language could be the fix the city needed to sign a contract and get the funds flowing for city residents. The garbage issue, he said, might present some challenge to work out on the city’s financial side, but it would be workable.
“If we can take that out, we can get there,” he said.
Collier said he would reach out to Simmons to start the conversation and see if an agreement could be reached.