LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A Lamar County utility company refuses to change its policies and procedures and will now have a formal public hearing with the Public Service Commission.
The Public Service Commission asked Arnold Line Waster Association to make changes to its rules, regulations, policies and procedures to "bring the regulations into compliance with Commission rules," but the utility said it isn't making any changes.
"The Arnold Line Water Association has had numerous complaints filed against them," said Sam Britton, public service commissioner for the southern district. "A steady stream of complaints over the years, and since I've taken office at the beginning of this year, I've asked the Public Service Commission to look into that. They (the commission) came back and said there were some changes that need to be made, primarily to their bylaws. Well, I also had the staff go and meet with them privately and explain those changes, and we requested them to make them. They refuse to do so. Now, we are going to have a formal hearing that will be open to the public, and Arnold Line will be able to come and tell us why they do not think they should be making these changes."
Britton said the proposed changes would improve the quality of service for customers.
"The Public Service Commission has limited authority over water associations, but we do have authority over quality of service issues," Britton said. "Quality of service (includes) various things. Something (as simple) as just how you pay your bill, the water that you receive. That's basically what it is."
Bill payment requirements were the first thing the commission asked the utility to change.
According to the letter the commission sent to C.R. Dixon, president and director of Arnold Line Water Association, the utility's rules require customers to have their "entire bill or account number" to pay a bill, which the commission said is "wholly inconsistent with the disclosure/support required by a utility."
The commission service rules require "a utility to give its customers such information and assistance as may be reasonable in order that customers may obtain efficient and reasonable service," and "forbids discontinuance of service to any customer for violation of its rules and regulations or for non-payment of bills without first having used due diligence to give the customer notice of such violation or delinquency and reasonable opportunity to comply with its rules and regulations or to pay his bills."
"The Commission cannot find that a utility has satisfied the due diligence required...if a utility disconnects service for failure to pay where the utility refused to provide to a customer with his account balance, instead placing the burden on the customer to provide his account number or entire bill in order to make payment," the letter states.
Other areas the commission said needed to adjust include:
- Under the subtitle "Discontinuance of Service by the Water System" on p. 6, language needs to be included advising customers of theirright to file a complaint with the MPSC if the decision by the board of directors is unfavorable to the customer.
- Subpart E of Arnold Line Water Association, Inc. Water Users Agreement states, "Arnold Line has the right to cut off your water for nonpayment of sewer for the City of Hattiesburg, West Over West Sewage or Lamar Park."" This subpart must be deleted from the user agreement as such arrangements are impermissible without prior approval from the Commission.
- Finally, Arnold Line's rules and regulations include the quotation of an older version of Miss. Code Ann. § 97-25-3.6 The association may elect (1) to update the rules and regulations to reflect the current version of the statute, or (2) to omit the statutory language and include only a reference to the code section. The Commission would recommend the latter course to avoid perpetual modification of the association's rules and regulations each time the statute is amended. If the association decides to continue incorporation of the statute, word for word, into its rules and regulations, then the association must revise its rules and regulations to include any amended language to its quotation of Miss. Code Ann. § 97-25-3 within a reasonable time following amendment of the statute by the Legislature. Thereafter, after revision, the rules and regulations must be submitted to the Commission for approval.
C.R. Dixon, president and director of Arnold Line Water Association, thinks his utility is already in compliance.
"Voted to not comply with them because we feel like that our policies and procedures are like everybody elses," said Dixon. "We don't vary from them for nobody."
Britton said, "I think over the years there's been a 150-some-odd complaints. The bottom line, there have been numerous complaints filed against Arnold Line Water Association, and what I'm going to do is I'm going to hold the utility accountable for quality of service issues."
Britton said because the utility refused to make the changes, it now must come to a public hearing with the commission to explain why
"The bottom line is we've attempted to work with Arnold Line to find a resolution to this very privately, and in the least inconvenient manner as possible," Britton said. "They have refused to do so. We will now have formal hearing concerning this."
Britton said a date and time for the hearing have not been set yet.