PEER Slams Utility Authority in Mississippi

PEER stands for Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, this is a group authorized by the State of Mississippi to audit state agencies. The Harrison County Utility Authority (HCUA) recently came under fire when state legislators raised concerns about how the Community Development Block Grant funds received from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds were being spent on engineering and legal consultants. What PEER found was not very flattering much to the chagrin of the utility board members.The PEER Report findings include: The HCUA board did not seek less costly alternative sites outside the Broadwater property for the Broadwater Water Systems and Wastewater Transmission Improvement projectwater tank and transmission line routes. The HCUA approved the site for an inflated cost of approximately $500,000 for half an acre.The HCUA board did not consistently require unanimous approval for Board actions which is required by lawe under MISS. CODE ANN. Section 49-17-729 (1972). Consequently, fifty-six of the board’s votes may be invalid. The HCUA board has not requested bids for legal services and has paid approximately $666,000 in legal fees from October 1, 2005, through September 30, 2010, to contract attorneys for legal counsel regarding non-Community Development Block Grant matters. The absence of competitive bidding calls into question the cost and quality of legal services.The population growth statistics were grossly overestimated to justify the need and purpose of the Mississippi Gulf Region Water and Wastewater Plan. In a Letter to the Editor, we point out that the HCUA should halt construction on 2 of the sewage plants that are not yet completed in order to save operation and maintenaince costs of plants that will be running well below capacity and are not needed.Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Assistant Director of Science and Water Policy for the Gulf Restoration Network.

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