Appeals Process Easier
Appealing overly high water bills and potential water shut-offs will soon be easier, thanks to a recent vote by the Jackson City Council.
The council approved an ordinance to streamline its water bill appeals process.
The measure was approved on a 5-1 vote with the lone holdout being Ward Three Councilman Kenneth Stokes.
The ordinance will go into effect in late September.
Under the measure, residents who have questions about their water bills will be able to appeal disputed amounts to the water and sewer billing department. If they don’t like the decision handed down by the billing employee, they can then appeal the decision to an independent administrative law judge.
Administration officials proposed the changes to ensure residents have due process in the appeals process.
Currently, customers can appeal disputed bills to the city attorney’s office, which is a representative of the administration. They can also approach their council representative to speak to the water department on their behalf.
A report released by Raftelis Financial Consultants several years ago said too many accounts had been adjusted without a clear rationale.
Ward Two Councilman Melvin Priester said the new ordinance will not only streamline the appeals process, but take the politics out of it.
“It now professionalizes the process and creates a structure where if you don’t like what happens in billing, it goes to an independent arbiter,” he said. “Everywhere else I lived, if you didn’t like what happened in the water department, you didn’t have the option to go to an independent judge.”
While some details still have to be worked out, the Lumumba administration plans to contract with a third-party arbiter to handle appeals.
By being a contract employee, that arbiter would be able to make decisions about bills without having to answer to the mayor, council or public works.
It will be up to the administration and council to determine the judge’s requirements, as well as the pay schedule. It was not known when a judge would be hired.
As of two weeks ago, about 300 customers had appealed their account balances.
Vape Detectors Installed
Madison County School District officials are working to fight the vaping epidemic that is sweeping the nation.
Madison Central High School recently installed vape detectors as part of a pilot program for this newly developed technology.
If Madison Central has success with the detectors and find that they are a helpful tool in detecting and deterring vaping, other high schools in the district may also install them as well.
Concerns have been raised in recent years about minors’ ability to get their hands on these devices, the long-term effects of vaping and addiction.
Vaping, or e-cigarette use, has reached epidemic levels, according to U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there has been a dramatic increase in teens’ use of vaping devices within the last year.
The findings are a result of the 2018 Monitoring the Future survey of a nationally representative sample of eighth, 10th and 12th-graders in schools nationwide.
The policy for Madison County School District is to treat e-cigarettes the same way they treat tobacco. The consequence is out of school suspension.
Madison Central Principal Sean Brewer said the school district began looking into ways to prevent vaping on campus last year.
“We started researching last school year to see if there was a way that we could have a deterrent on campus,” Brewer said. “We found a company that produces a device that they report being able to detect the vape smoke or vapors that the devices create that would alert administrators of vape use.”
The devices are installed on the ceilings of restrooms in high traffic areas. When the devices pick up emissions from vaping, they send alerts to school officials.
“We are piloting this at some of our locations and really working on getting that functional and accurate,” Brewer said. “We are attempting to deploy these units to reduce the use of vapes on campus.”
The devices also have the ability to detect an elevated noise level, which Brewer said could help the school respond quickly in the event of a fight or bullying.
The devices cost $1,000 each and were installed when school started.
Getting Outdoor Gym
A new outdoor exercise area is going up at Parham Bridges Park.
The city of Jackson recently approved the installation of a new outdoor gym called a “FitLot Fitness Park System,” which will be installed near the park’s walking trail.
A rendering of the system shows various equipment, including an outdoor elliptical, pull bars and other equipment, under a covered awning.
The equipment is being designed and installed free-of-charge by Fitlot Outdoor Fitness Parks and AARP, and is slated to be completed October 8.
Once completed, the equipment will be owned and maintained by the city of Jackson.
Construction on the new equipment has already gotten under way.
According to its website, AARP is donating “FitLots” to cities in every state across the country. Other sites include Rapid City, S.D., Springfield, Ill., and Wilmington, Del.
Project Ahead of Schedule
Construction is ahead of schedule for the Lake Harbour Drive extension project, according to Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee.
“It’s moving ahead of schedule,” McGee said of the project. “It’s contracted to be complete in July of next year.”
Eutaw Construction has been installing the Lake Harbour Drive Extension bridge beams over I-55 northbound lanes.
That part of the project, which resulted in the closing of I-55 to traffic from I-220 to the Natchez Trace Parkway for intermittent, 30-minute periods each night last week, has been completed.
The Lake Harbour Drive extension project includes four-laning the road from Highway 51 West to Highland Colony Parkway, along with a multi-use trail.
Operation Shoestring’s 2019 concert, Think! A Soulful Expression of Community, is scheduled for Thursday, September 12, at the Mississippi Museum of Art from 7 to 10 p.m.
A night of musical and theatric performances and food trucks is being planned. Rita Brent, from Comedy Central, truTV, and the Rickey Smiley Tour, will host the event. Tickets for the concert are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.
All the net proceeds of the community event support the afterschool and family programs of Operation Shoestring.
For more information, call 601-353-6336.