Light bill paid, but Port Gibson still in dark

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A $24,539.30 payment to Entergy Tuesday has settled the past due utility balance for the City of Port Gibson, but city street lights turned off last month as a result of the unpaid balance will be kept off, officials said.

“We’ve paid the remainder of that balance,” Port Gibson Mayor Fred Reeves said. “We have got to get a handle on things.”

Before the payment, Port Gibson had paid $30,000 in November and $10,000 in October toward the city’s balance of $66,000 to $70,000, Port Gibson City Clerk Vanessa Shaifer said.

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The balance was about six months in arrears, Reeves said.

Talks between Port Gibson and Entergy, the city’s electricity supplier, to reduce the bill, which ran about $8,000 per month, resulted in a decision to shut off nearly three-fourths of the city street lights.

So far, 123 of 423 lights have been turned off, and Reeves said he is planning to have more turned off.

The shut-offs have angered residents, Reeves said.

“The elderly are saying they’re afraid,” Reeves said after a work session for the city’s Board of Aldermen Monday. “They said it’s too dark.”

Police Chief Calvin Jackson said the city has seen a small increase in the number of burglaries reported in affected areas since the lights were dimmed.

“We’ve had six or seven in different areas of this city,” he said, “and that’s more than normal.”

Port Gibson, about 30 miles south of Vicksburg, has a population of about 1,800.

Reeves, who was voted into office in 2008, said the city is not producing enough revenue to cover its expenses. A large portion of the city’s revenue comes from taxes paid by Entergy’s Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.

“We’re trying to reduce our expenses,” Reeves said.

The city this year stopped paying for cell phones for the six aldermen.

Entergy’s customer service manager Don Arnold said his company has evaluated Port Gibson’s street light situation to help reduce the utility bill by half.

“We did an audit for them of where the street lights were,” he said. “We found that there were three street lights on in one street with only one house.”

Arnold said reducing wattage in certain light bulbs also will help with energy usage.

The city has been struggling for a couple of years to pay for its operations, Reeves said, but a $250,000 tax anticipation loan from a $700,000 annual payment from Grand Gulf Nuclear Station last month has the city secure in funding for the time.

“We usually have problems again in March or April,” he said. In June, the city borrowed $250,000 to help pay for operations.