OUR OPINION: Water talks center on fair compensation

Important negotiations begin Thursday about water service in Tupelo’s newly annexed areas. Central to the discussion is how the North Lee Water Association, which serves several hundred customers now in the city of Tupelo following a 2012 annexation, can move forward without those customers if the city obtains them in an as-yet-unspecified financial agreement.

It appears a sizable number of the annexed residents want Tupelo Water and Light service, including Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Palmer, who was annexed into the city in 2012 and then ran successfully in 2013 for the City Council.

Palmer has said he is tired of North Lee’s well-documented water quality problems that include discolored water.

Palmer also said, “Annexed residents want to get services we’re paying for.”

Those include drinking water and fire protection, which is part of Tupelo’s commitment to annexed residents.

The North Lee water lines are four inches in diameter, half the eight-inch diameter required for fire protection using Tupelo’s fire engines and pressure hoses. The city’s push to also supply water to those customers is logical, but as City Attorney Ben Logan said on Monday afternoon and Water and Light Department executive director Johnny Timmons said earlier, they want to provide fair compensation to North Lee for the customers Tupelo seeks to obtain.

About 10 percent of North Lee’s customer base is in the annexed area, but that 10 percent generates 20 percent of the system’s revenue.

Some of the annexed area like Big Oaks was equipped with city-specification water lines and sewer lines when it was developed.

North Lee, before the annexation was finalized, had begun planning for an expansion of its storage tank and well capacity, carrying an estimated price tag of about $9 million, which would require borrowing on North Lee’s part and, it is assumed, passing along costs of the debt to customers.

Negotiations are confidential, a reasonable expectation, but eventually all the details of a deal will be known and become public record.

Held to strictly financial terms – fair compensation agreed to by all parties – this issue is resolvable.

Annexed residents might not have sought annexation, but now that they’re in the city they deserve unfettered access to full city services, including a reliable water supply and fire protection.