At a press conference this week, Itta Bena residents spoke out about their experiences with high, uneven electric bills.
The Tuesday night meeting was organized by Patricia Young, who has collected around 300 signatures on a petition and sent it to the State Auditor’s Office to request an investigation into the rates on electric bills. She said she had received no response.
Young, who has been investigating this issue since last year, claims that while most residents have been paying 12 cents per kilowatt hour, others have been charged anywhere from 14 to 20 cents.
The conference, held outside City Hall, attracted about 40 people.
Young said this meeting was important because it showed that it “wasn’t just Ms. Young complaining” but also many other residents.
One citizen, Birdie Williams, said her August bill, $719, was inconsistent with her July bill, $56. This statement brought a gasp from the crowd.
“That is ridiculous,” she said.
Williams said she also had problems with Itta Bena City Hall employees when trying to ask about these bills.
“Y’all, we better speak out and speak up,” she said.
Young echoed that sentiment.
“We have been sitting down for too long,” she said. “The more you sit down, the more you say nothing. You can cry behind your doors, but until you come out and talk with the ones you need to talk to, nothing is going to change.”
Another resident, Saletta Davis, said her bills have added extra pressure to her responsibilities of assisting family members living with disabilities.
“I have a handicapped brother and handicapped sister I have to take care of,” she said. “I had to make out four checks for this bill, which I cannot afford to pay.”
Davis said employees at City Hall told her she could not make a partial payment and then threatened to turn off her lights.
Young had suggested at the Board of Aldermen meeting last week that citizens should be able to make partial payments. The board said the city cannot accept this because of policies it must follow as part of its deal with the Municipal Energy Agency of Mississippi, the town’s electric provider.
Only one city official, Ward 3 Alderman Darrick Hart, attended the conference. He repeated his call for a formal investigation into the light bills.
Before the press conference ended, Young said: “We are citizens, and we are tired. We have been behind a wall for too long, and it’s time to put pressure until somebody breaks, and it is not going to be us.”
At the last board meeting, Hart and Ward 4 Alderman Reginald Freeman asked whether City Clerk Edna Beverly could provide the proper numbers on how the bills are calculated. Beverly said she could not.
After the meeting, she said she had no way of knowing the exact process of calculating utility rates since they have been in effect for more than 30 years.
The board voted to have City Attorney Solomon Osborne, who is also a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, reach out to U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson to see if he can bring more information about having solar panels installed to alleviate electric costs.
Ward 1 Alderwoman Jo Ann Purnell said she had scheduled a meeting with Delta Electric to see if she can get a better understanding of how bills are calculated.
• Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or email@example.com. Twitter: @AdamBakst_GWCW