Hattiesburg and Petal at odds: Sewer rates increasing

Hattiesburg and Petal officials have been at odds for months over Hattiesburg's demand that residents in the Friendly City pay higher sewer rates. Hattiesburg council members voted Tuesday to raise the rates on their own residents by 40% over the next four years, but Petal officials filed suit Tuesday, asking the courts to set a more reasonable rate for their residents.

Petal officials say the rate Hattiesburg wants to charge is unfair and violates anti trust laws. Mayor Hal Marx says Hattiesburg is treating Petal residents as second rate citizens. Meanwhile, Marx gave WDAM a letter of agreement dated December 2012 between himself and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree.

The City of Hattiesburg has billed the City of Petal over $200,000 a month since October for sewerage treatment. Mayor Hal Marx says they've had an agreement since 1985 that they would pay roughly $25,000 a month.

Today Marx gave us a copy of an agreement reached between he and Mayor DuPree last December, which state that Petal will continue paying the regular rate until a final decision was made. It also allowed Hattiesburg to continue billing at the higher rate, without expectation of the larger payment, until a final decision is reached.

At least three Hattiesburg council members were unaware of the December agreement, including president Kim Bradley; however, after checking with city clerk Eddie Myers, Bradley said it's "no big deal." He went on to say that the city was only protecting its interest by depositing the smaller amount.

Mayor Marx sent a letter to Bradley on Wednesday. An excerpt from the letter reads as follows:

"When I speak on behalf of the City of Petal, I make sure that I keep my board of aldermen informed of any agreements I reach. I expected that Mayor DuPree did the same with you and the other council members. Perhaps I was wrong."

While the war of words continues between the two city governments, Petal residents also spoke out to WDAM. One mother said her water bill costs almost as much as her light bill.

An employee at Chase's Tire and Auto said many people won't be able to afford it.

The next step if for the City of Hattiesburg to respond to the lawsuit. Bradley says the suit may be a blessing in disguise, because it will speed up the process of setting rates.