VHA residents past due $90,000 on utilities

Published 11:00 am Thursday, May 22, 2014

052214-Ben WashingtonVicksburg Housing Authority and city officials are looking for a way to recover $90,000 in past due sewer and garbage collection fees accumulated by a majority of the residents at VHA’s Cedars Estates off U.S. 61 South and develop a billing system that allows the housing authority to pay for the services in the future and be reimbursed by the tenants.

According to city records, 34 of Cedars’ 56 residents are responsible for the past due balance. VHA executive director Ben Washington said one tenant was $5,600 in arrears, the largest single total.

“We can’t be providing services for free,” Flaggs said. He did not know how far back the past due balances went, “but if it was one day after I took office, it was too long.”

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“We’re trying to recapture money that is due the city,” he added.

He said he, city Attorney Nancy Thomas and gas and water administration director Tammye Christmas met May 16 with Washington about the arrearage. He said Washington “was very accommodating” and wants to resolve the problem.

“We have always had (sewer billing) problems with areas where we do not provide water service,” Thomas said. She said public works officials asked if some agreement could be reached with VHA over the arrears.

Christmas said the city’s sewer user fees are based on water usage. The city assesses a $17.50 fee for garbage collection under a contract with Waste Management.

Under the city’s billing policy, water and gas service is cut off if customers fail to pay a past due balance, but Christmas said city officials can’t cut off services to the past due Cedars customers because they are not on the city’s water and gas systems.

Cedars, which is south of the Vicksburg Municipal Airport, gets water service from the Yokena-Jefferson Davis Water District and gas from Mississippi River Gas in Port Gibson. Christmas said city employees read the Yokena water meters to determine sewer usage for the tenants.

Washington told the VHA’s Board of Commissioners about the billing problem at a meeting Tuesday. He said he will contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to see if emergency funds are available to pay off the past due amount, and is working with Christmas to find a system that will allow the housing authority to pay the sewer and garbage fees for Cedars.

While the VHA pays the water, sewer and gas service for senior citizens and disabled tenants, other tenants are responsible for paying their utility bills. Washington said some residents who qualify receive a utility allowance through a U.S. Housing and Urban Development program.

If VHA is able to work out an agreement with the city to pay the fees for Cedars, he said, the residents there will see a corresponding increase in their rent, and anyone receiving a utility allowance will see a corresponding reduction in their monthly allowance to reimburse the housing authority’s costs.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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