Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation Friday requiring localities to base water bills on personal consumption, blocking a proposed reform by the federally appointed manager of the troubled water system in the state’s capital city.
The Republican Governor signed House Bill 698 months after Ted Henifin, who was appointed in November by a federal court to help improve Jackson’s water infrastructure, released a proposal calling for billing water based on property values rather than personal use.
Henifin said the new billing model would be a more equitable method of pricing water in a city where roughly 25% of residents live in poverty.
It would be unfair to charge people for water based on factors unrelated to how much they consume, Reeves said in a statement on Friday.
“Water bills based on property values squeeze the middle class,” Reeves said. “They can’t afford to pay more for the home they already own. Water bills will continue to be based off of personal consumption – just like what is being done throughout the rest of the country.”
Rep. Shanda Yates, an independent from Jackson, introduced the legislation, which passed with bipartisan support. Several Jackson-area lawmakers opposed the bill.
Repeated breakdowns in Jackson have caused many in the majority-Black city of about 150,000 residents to go days and weeks at a time without safe running water. Last August, people waited in lines for water to drink, bathe, cook and flush toilets. Henifin was appointed after the U.S. Justice Department won a federal judge’s approval for a rare intervention to fix the city’s water system.
In January, Henifin released a proposal calling for a monthly cap on water fees for homes and commercial properties. The proposed solution was a response to the loss of revenue Jackson has experienced as its tax base eroded over the past few decades. It also would reduce the system’s dependence on city water meters, which have been mired in problems, Henifin said.
“We are fundamentally flawed in the United States in that we price water only to burden that lower end of the economic spectrum, and we don’t even attempt to get more revenue from the upper end,” Henifin said in a December interview with The Associated Press. “If you look at property values as a surrogate for income, we could generate more than enough revenue to actually own and operate and maintain the system.”
The new law takes effect July 1.
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.