PETAL, MS (WDAM) - Jan Smith and his wife spent 20 days in a hotel following the deadly EF-3 tornado on Jan. 21. The couple has since been in a rental as they work to rebuild their home on Margaret Avenue in Petal.
Smith reached out to WDAM 7 News when he received his utility bill in the mail, with charges for water, sewage and garbage. He said he spoke with some neighbors experiencing the same thing, even though nobody was actually living in the home or using the utilities.
"I thought it was too excessive for no water usage," Smith said. "I don't mind paying for garbage, I did use garbage. The water, I've used none, so I don't think I should have to pay."
A tree fell through the roof of Smith's bedroom when the tornado moved through Petal. Smith said the process to rebuild has been a hard being away from home.
"It's putting more stress on top of the stress I already have," Smith said.
On Smith's utility bill, it showed zero usage, but had charges for water, garbage and sewage. The total bill was $66.25. The city said that is the minimum payment when a resident has the utilities connected.
"Unfortunately, we do not know who is in the homes or not. So if they keep the account active, they will still get the minimum bill," Petal Mayor Hal Marx said.
Marx said it does not matter if the usage is from zero to 1,000, there is still a minimum fee to keep the service connected.
"If it says zero, you may have used 800 gallons," Marx said. "But, even if you use zero, you actually still have a minimum bill, because there is a minimum connection whether you are living there or not."
Marx said if a resident is not living in their home, but received a bill, they can call the city and he will make sure it is figured out.
He said the city is also holding residents deposits if they are turning off their water due to damage from the tornado. This means residents will not face additional fees when they do turn the water service back on at their property.
"We definitely don't want any of our citizens who are displaced by the tornado to get billed for what they aren't using, so all they have to do is give us a call," Marx said.
If you are in this situation, you can call the Water Department at (601) 544-6981 or visit the office at 102 W 8th Avenue.