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Board authorizes negotiations for MLG&W to collect solid waste, storm water charges

By Bill Short

Flag City LogoThe Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen has authorized negotiations with Memphis Light, Gas & Water to collect sanitation and storm water charges for the city.
Board members took the action during their July 13 regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Thomas McGhee and seconded by Alderman Larry Dagen.
The motion was passed by five affirmative votes, with Alderman Mike Caruthers dissenting and Alderman Hank Hawkins absent.
Millington wants the solid waste and storm water charges that are collected from residents to be added to the electric/gas bill of all MLG&W customers inside the city limits.
An authorizing resolution states that an inter-local agreement “detailing the fee structure” for the billing and collection of those charges is in the “best interest” of the MLG&W rate payers and the city’s residents.
City Manager Ed Haley is authorized to “negotiate and enter into” the agreement and to “execute” any documents necessary to “effectuate” it.
During discussion shortly before the vote, Caruthers called MLG&W “the most difficult organization to deal with” that he has encountered in his “entire life.”
“This is not a good thing for us to do,” he said. “I don’t support letting MLG&W get its clutches in Millington any more than it is already.”
Alderman Chris Ford asked about the “main advantage” of the agreement.
City Finance Director John Trusty said “a number” of Millington residents in the Lucy community or some other areas are “not on city water.” And many of them “choose” not to pay their sanitation or storm water fees.
“If they’re on the MLG&W bill,” he noted, “they will have no choice but to pay them in order to keep their MLG&W utilities on. So, the benefit to the city will be a higher collection rate from all of our residents.”
In response to a question by Caruthers, Trusty said the city has not put any “liens” on the property of those residents.
While noting that the storm water fee is $2.50 a month, City Attorney Charles Perkins said the cost of filing a lien is “probably way in excess” of what the city would collect.
Caruthers speculated that, if “one or two” liens are filed, the “word will get out” that the residents have to pay the fees.
Alderman Bethany Huffman said she believes this issue is related to the city’s plan to begin providing sewer services to the Lucy residents in July 2016.
“For us to not address this and wait until next July is not very prudent,” she noted. “But to say that we want to enter into something with MLG&W that we haven’t even negotiated may be a step too far tonight.”
Huffman asked whether the resolution could be amended to authorize Haley to just negotiate and submit a proposal for the board to consider at a future meeting.
But Haley said the agreement only pertains to “billing” and has “nothing at all to do” with sewer services for Lucy.
“MLG&W didn’t ask for this,” he noted. “I asked for it.”
Calling it “a lot more efficient,” Haley said the agreement would give the residents a much easier way to pay their bills and the city to collect them. If the board does not want it, he said it can reject the resolution.
“We’re working with MLG&W on the Lucy sewer,” he noted. “That’s a much larger issue that we certainly don’t need to burn any bridges over.”
Haley said MLG&W would collect the sanitation and storm water charges on its bill and refund that portion to the city “for a fee,” which would be approximately 2 percent.
But even if the board approves the agreement, he said it faces “two more hurdles.” The first is the MLG&W Board, and then it must be submitted to the Memphis City Council.
Huffman acknowledged that the agreement will not really “change the process” if it allows the billing and collection to be more efficient.
“I don’t have an issue with that,” she noted, “especially, given the process it has to go through. We’re certainly going to have plenty of other opportunities to look at it before it gets done.”
McGhee said the “idea” is to save the residents from having to go “different places” to pay their bills, but the services will still be provided by the city.
“Any customer-service issues would still be raised with the city and not with MLG&W,” he concluded. “So, it wouldn’t change materially how our people are getting their services.”

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