Brandon Presley, Mildred Miller

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, left, speaks with Mildred Miller, a member of the Itta Bena Board of Aldermen, following a public hearing Thursday night in Itta Bena.

It looks like Itta Bena’s lights will stay on past Dec. 1.

“It’s just not an option for electricity to be shut off for the town of Itta Bena,” Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said at a public hearing in Itta Bena Thursday night.

The Municipal Energy Agency of Mississippi, which wholesales power to its members, had notified Itta Bena and the Public Service Commission that it would no longer sell electricity to Itta Bena on the date because of a long accumulated $800,000 debt Itta Bena has yet to pay to MEAM.

But the Board of Aldermen decided during the hearing at the L.T. Brazil Community Center to consider two options during a called meeting on Friday.

About 25 people other than board members and Presley’s staff attended the hearing Thursday. Presley asked the board to meet. “We have to have a plan of action,” he urged.

The first option would be to make a good-faith effort to pay MEAM. Presley told the group that MEAM would be willing to back away from the deadline if the city immediately took action regarding the debt.

Mayor J.D. Brasel said, “We intend to pay them, but I know we won’t have it by Dec. 1.”

Presley said, “They are willing to hold on a Dec. 1 shut-off date.”

The second, which Presley promoted and appeared to be backed by three of the five Board of Aldermen members, would be to turn the ownership of Itta Bena’s electrical distribution system over to Entergy  Mississippi.

The company would spread the cost of rehabbing Itta Bena’s creaky distribution system among its 450,000 customers statewide, Presley said. He also noted that a representative of Entergy was among those in the audience at the hearing. Presley said he asked Entergy “to come to the table by providing electricity for Itta Bena.”

Delta Electric Power Association, which is based in Greenwood, has declined to assume the project because of its cost, Presley said. But with Entergy, he said, “the preliminary work has already begun.”

Board members expressed concerns ranging from loss of revenue to the city to whether Itta Bena’s sole lineman would be able to get a job with Entergy. Presley said Entergy would welcome his application.

He emphasized that Entergy would pay ad valorem taxes on lines and poles — any property that is part of the distribution system. It will also pay a quarterly franchise fee of 2% of the revenue it draws from Itta Bena. Presley also said customers could pay Entergy bills online and perhaps at a location established in Itta Bena.

Joyce Chiles

Itta Bena resident Joyce Chiles asks what Itta Bena’s role in collection of overdue bills might be if Entergy were the electricity provider. People applauded when Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley answered, “None.”

Presley said Entergy’s charge per kilowatt hour is set by the commission and always would be available as a matter of public record. It currently is 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

Itta Bena, which has 1,800 residents, provides electricity to about 800 to 1,000 customers. Many have complained about high charges and erratic billing.

Board members Mildred Miller and Reginald Freeman quietly spoke against turning the system over to another provider. “I would love it if we could just get a little more time,” Miller said.

Freeman said he would hate to see the city’s system sold. But board member Darrick Hart said, “To me, it’s a prayer being answered.”

Presley said if the board decides to take Entergy up on its offer, MEAM will still work with Itta Bena to settle its debt.

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