PEER says Alcorn cut corners for private utility services

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 23, 2003

[10/22/03]Alcorn State University has wrongly provided free or cheap utility services to private citizens at public expense, according to a report from the Legislative PEER Committee.

The report issued this month by the Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review found that Alcorn has not properly managed its utility billing and collection system, resulting in uncollected accounts and loss of revenues and has exceeded the authority granted to it by the state by providing utilities to unauthorized individuals, including private residences of nonfaculty and providing unauthorized services such as cable television and garbage collection. The study also found that the university has not ensured that private residences receiving water and natural gas through the university are metered and billed according to the actual units of service used.

Alcorn President Clinton Bristow Jr., responded to the PEER Committee report in a written letter stating that the university would implement all recommendations.

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“It’s just a suggestion on how to improve on something,” Bristow said. “The report is not criticizing. We’ve done nothing wrong.”

No criminal charges have been filed.

In 1968, Alcorn was given authority to provide utility services to faculty members’ private homes because of the 3,000-student school’s secluded, rural location. The university is in southern Claiborne County.

Over the years since that policy was started, some of the faculty members who hooked up to the utility system have retired, but continue to receive services. The PEER report recommends that Alcorn seek expanded authority from the Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning to continue to offer those services to retired faculty.

Of the 16 private property owners receiving utility services from Alcorn today, only three are active faculty members.

The report also found that services including natural gas, water and sewer were not metered. Customers were billed a flat rate.

Bristow said the university will begin metering services and billing based on use.

In all, the PEER Committee made eight recommendations to Alcorn regarding its utility services including adding late fees and ensuring the collection of past-due bills. As of May, five accounts were past due in an amount totaling $1,049 including one account that had not been paid in 11 months, according to the report.

Alcorn also provides cable television to 15 private property owners and garbage collection services to 13 private property owners.

Created in 1973, the PEER Committee is made up of five members of the Senate and five members of the House of Representatives and employs a staff of about 30. The committee is charged with analyzing state agency programs and operations and making recommendations to the Legislature to make government more efficient and accountable.

In 2002, a private citizen whose residence is adjacent to the university and private property served by Alcorn water and gas lines complained to PEER that the university attempted to install a water line across his mother’s property without a proper easement. This complaint raised questions concerning the university’s authority to provide utility services to private property owners and how Alcorn was managing the utility system.