Entergy Mississippi will be supplying Itta Bena residences and businesses with electricity.
The city’s Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 during a special meeting Friday to ratify the transfer. Ward 3’s Darrick Hart made the motion, which was seconded by Ward 2’s Johnnie Riley.
It is not certain how long the transfer from the city-owned utility to Entergy will take. Officials are expecting that Itta Bena will continue to receive power from the Municipal Energy Agency of Mississippi while the transfer is being completed.
The board’s action followed a deadline set by MEAM. It had notified the city and the Public Service Commission that it would discontinue selling to Itta Bena on Dec. 1 because of a long-term debt.
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley brought Entergy to the table after notification from MEAM. He has said the power wholesaler has indicated it would continue to serve the city until Entergy takes over.
Mildred Miller, alderman at large, dissented from ratifying the transfer but did not say why. She and Mayor J.D. Brasel have objected to an expected loss of revenue, which the city has been using to pay other bills and employee salaries.
When the meeting opened, Brasel invited the board to speak up about what should be done and expressed concern about a large loss. Income from Entergy in the form of 2% quarterly payments and ad valorem taxes would not compensate for money currently earned by the electricity department, he said. “We are going to be looking for revenue still,” he explained.
“We are making money off of MEAM (through the electricity department) to serve this town,” Brasel said.
City Attorney Solomon Osborne, who was appointed to work with Entergy on arrangements for the transfer, observed, “You are going to have to see how much revenue you are going to lose.” The city will have to adjust its budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, he said.
Itta Bena, which has about 1,800 residents, budgeted $270,438 from ad valorem taxes this fiscal year.
Ward 4’s Reginald Freeman said, “There are going to be some job losses here.” He noted that three or four employees were being paid with electrical service revenues.
It was not clear Friday how much to expect Entergy will be paying the city and how much the current system contributes to the city’s $3.1 million budget. This includes almost $2.4 million in income from collection for water and sewer service along with billings to its 800 to 1,000 electricity customers.
These departments’ budgeted expenditures for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 are: electricity, $1.76 million, including projected spending of $88,207 for personnel; water, $367,759; and sewer, $163,869. The water budget, however, appears to contain an $87,000 error. The breakdown by category for the water department is the same as the prior year, which totaled $280,293.
Brasel said Itta Bena owes MEAM less than the $800,000 that has been reported, explaining that the figure is closer to $700,000.
Additionally, the mayor said customers owe the city $350,000 in unpaid bills.
He serves as a member of MEAM’s commission, which is composed of representatives of each of MEAM’s utility members. These also include Greenwood, Leland, Canton and Kosciusko. Each month for the past six months, Brasel has hand-delivered a $30,000 debt payment to MEAM, he said.