Free water could dry up

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Despite rules against perks for volunteer board service, North Lee County Water Association’s directors have been enjoying free or discounted water.
But that practice could end, as a reconstituted board mulls revoking that privilege at its next meeting, whose date has yet to be determined.
For several years, association directors have paid a flat rate of $10.30 monthly regardless of water consumption, the association confirmed Thursday.
That’s in violation of the board’s own bylaws, which prohibit compensating directors. Bylaws do, however, permit board officers – president, vice president and secretary/treasurer – to get compensation, but it doesn’t set an amount.
Although some board directors are officers, others are not. Even non-officers have been receiving benefits.
Regular North Lee customers pay $10.30 for the first 3,000 gallons per month and $3.50 for each additional 1,000 gallons after that. Some of their monthly bills surpass $100.
Directors’ meters aren’t even read, so it’s unknown how much water they actually use, said meter reader Phillip Miller.
Until this week, the board had eight members. All but the most recent, Bruce Parker, had benefited. Currently, five members are serving, including two who were hastily appointed after others had resigned Tuesday. New members won’t receive the benefit.
Miller estimated there have been about one dozen board members over the years.
Water meters on directors’ farms or businesses, however, are supposed to be read. But Miller said he was told to falsify numbers for at least one director’s property – the cotton gin of board President Mitchell Scruggs.
Although Miller has never read the gin’s meter, he said he was told by the association’s former certified operator to log 300-400 gallons at that gin monthly.
Records show the cotton gin had used 300 gallons during the most recent billing period. It’s unclear whether Mitchell was aware of this.
Scruggs, along with others, also has access to free water that flows through unmetered spigots.
One such spigot sits on Mount Vernon Road farmland belonging to Scruggs. Another sits on the property of farmer and former board Vice President Jimmy Bucy.
Bucy said the association has been putting unmetered spigots in farmers’ properties for years in exchange for free use of their land to lay pipes, dig wells and do other work. The farmers had access to free water for their crops and chemicals, and the association also could use the spigots as flush valves.
Bucy said he had offered to pay for water from his spigot but was told no. That was decades ago, he said.
“I don’t think it was anything dishonest,” he said. “It was just the way it was done. It was good for everyone.”
But the interim board could nix that practice, too. Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said it’s time to lock the spigots or put meters on them.