Northeast Itawamba Water Association board vote a no-go

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

A petition to oust the Northeast Itawamba Water Association’s board of directors failed to generate enough signatures to call for an official vote.

The petition, which has been circulating around the Northeast Itawamba Water Association’s coverage area for months, garnered a total of 153 valid signatures — just short of the 175 names needed to call for a special meeting, as laid out by the regional water system’s bylaws.

“[The petition] is not legally valid under your own bylaws,” the board’s attorney, Lori Nail Basham, told a crowd of around 100 people who attended a special meeting of the water association Monday night. “Any vote you make here tonight would not be valid … under any court of law.”

According to the water association’s bylaws, any petition to remove the standing board of directors needs to be signed by 10 percent of the water system’s 1,749 customers. At one point, the petition contained 217 signatures; however, 64 of these names were later withdrawn by the people who signed them.

The meeting, held in the commons area of Itawamba Agricultural High School, was scheduled in order to hold a vote should the petition have been valid.

Compared to recent meetings of the water board, this special meeting was both relatively short and non-confrontational. Basham was quick to defend the board’s recent — largely successful — attempts to repair a series of major leaks plaguing the water system, as well as their recent decision to hire Cook Coggins Engineering to conduct a feasibility study of connecting the regional water system to Fulton. She said the current board has made more progress in solving the water system’s problems in the past two months than have been made in years.

“The board is aware of the water systems problems … [and is] trying to make the right decisions,” she said.

Basham asserted that the board is working with both Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley’s office and the Mississippi Department of Health in trying to resolve issues with water pressure and cleanliness.

Speaking for the board as a whole, board member Reed Adams told the crowd that all of the water system’s major leaks have been repaired, although minor leaks are still being found.

Still, he said “productivity has increased drastically.” Adams said the Ridge System, which was pumping water 24 hours a day, is now pumping 11 hours instead, lightening the load considerably.

“We’re not going to run out of water today, tomorrow or next year,” Adams said, although he asserted that in order to sustain, the water system will eventually need to be connected to a surface water system.

How and when to do that is an important question to be carefully considered. Adams told the crowd the board wants to make the right decision.

“Not just for now; not just for this year; but for the long run,” he said.

Some in attendance expressed considerably less confidence in the board’s ability to fix the problems that have been plaguing the system for years. Several customers questioned the system’s finances (or lack thereof) and its recent trepidation about connecting to the water system in Franklin County, Ala.

Basham attempted to address both concerns. For finances, she said the system has approximately $60,000 in emergency funds and is $1.4 million in debt. The system’s books have been audited on a yearly basis and found to be in good order. She added that these records are public and may be requested by anyone at any time.

As for the Franklin County project, Basham restated that the board is still weighing its options.

“They don’t know what they’re going to do,” she said, adding that the board will make a decision within a few weeks and move forward from there.

adam.armour@journalinc.com