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Ignore hike in water, sewer rates PSC tells Oak Park

[01/17/01] A legal notice about a rate increase mailed to Oak Park and perhaps other residents can be ignored for now, a member of the Mississippi Public Service Commission said Tuesday.

Customers of Total Environmental Solutions Inc. of Baton Rouge received the notices this week, saying the company was seeking permission for an $8 temporary increase for sewer and water customers. Commissioner Nielsen Cochran said the request had already been rejected and no rate requests for TESI were pending.

“That’s in the garbage can,” Cochran said, adding the company is free to file for rate changes at a later date.

TESI bought many companies in the bankruptcy proceedings of Johnson Properties, once based in Vicksburg. Johnson Properties owned Oak Park Utility and some others in Warren County.

The notices went to customers of Oak Park, Benard Acres, Blakely, Pleasant Valley, Riviera Heights and Villanova sewer systems. Most of those people pay a flat $15 a month for sewer service. The notices said rates would not rise above $30 for any customer.

The bankruptcy proceedings were part of the legal entanglements of Glen Kelly Johnson and his scores of small utility companies in Mississippi and Louisiana. Although often in trouble in Mississippi, Johnson was fined $4.4 million by a federal court in Louisiana and sentenced to a three-year federal prison term.

Cochran said the commission had received TESI’s notice in October, but had rejected it based on a recommendation from the PSC staff that it was without merit.

“That’s goofy,” Cochran said when told that local TESI customers had received a notice in the mail. “I have no idea why they did that.”

Ricky Cox, a Gulfport attorney representing TESI, agreed that the application for a rate increase has been suspended, but said it could be brought back up by the company.

The notices sent out by TESI, Cox said, are merely a way of notifying customers the company intends to apply to the PSC for a rate change in the event anyone wants to appear before the commission when a hearing is set.

“It is required under the rules and regulations of the public service commission,” Cox said.

Under Mississippi law, non-municipal public utility companies must operate under the oversight of the three elected members of the PSC. The commissioners have a dual charge to essentially guarantee that utility firms remain profitable to assure continuity of service and, on the other hand, to protect consumers from gouging.

When firms ranging in size from BellSouth or Entergy down to local water districts want to make changes in their rates, ownership, service area or other matters, petitions must be filed with the state regulators and no changes can be made without permission.

Services provided by cities, including water, sewer, gas and garbage collection, are not regulated.