Supervisors frustrated with county water associations

Published 4:14 pm Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Many rural households have no access to public water not for a lack of availability, but because local water association boards are unwilling to take on expansion projects, according to the Panola County Board of Supervisors.

Other county residents have ongoing plumbing and sewer issues due to outdated and overloaded wastewater systems in and around the small municipalities in Panola County, problems the supervisors say they can’t address without cooperation from the directors of the associations.

The matter has been the topic of discussion at recent board meetings as more information is becoming available about the pending release of ARPA (American Recovery Plan Act) funds, part of a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package recently given final approval by President Joe Biden. Some $6 million of that money is expected to land in Panola County with a sizable portion earmarked for water and sewer improvements.

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“Every water association in the county has come with their hand out,” said board president Cole Flint at Monday’s regular meeting in Sardis. “What I’m hearing from the state is that the water associations that are willing to put out the effort to get engineering work, scope of work, and cost estimates done, then the state will offer matching funds. That’s when the county can help, but nobody I know of has gone through the full scope of work. They call me wanting to know how much we are going to give them, and I can’t answer that until they do some homework and complete the process.”

Supervisor Earl Burdette, who represents most of the northwest part of Panola was particularly agitated. He said the root of the problem is that water associations don’t want to expand because of the necessary paperwork and potential raising of water rates so all could have community water.

“At the end of the day it’s not the water association board members that need water, they have water,” Burdette said. “It’s the general public that needs water. Not everybody wants a well. When you try to call the water associations they either won’t talk to you or never answer the phone. They don’t want to expand and they don’t care if other people don’t have good water. They have theirs.”

Supervisor Chad Meek said his frustration with water associations is explaining the process, which often begins with applying for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) that would probably be funded by federal, state, and county dollars, if the association leaders would complete the application process.

“You have a couple of them that have a water board that is not willing to do the work,” Meek said. “If you have a water association that doesn’t want to do the homework, you can’t just cut them a check for four or five or six hundred thousand dollars because who’s to say they are even going to put it to good use?”

The county’s liaison with the North Delta Planning and Development District – the agency all local governments use to secure state and federal grants – is Darrell Dixon, who was at Monday’s meeting and echoed what the supervisors discussed.

“I’ve seen the same thing,” Dixon said. “The preliminary work must be done and to get a project funded the county can only participate through the CDBG program, but the applicant has to do the work.”

Dixon said engineering firms will often perform some of the work needed for an application at no cost, hoping to help the water associations or municipalities to secure the project funding and taking their fees on the back end of the project.

Dixon said any water association or government that intends to apply for CDBG funding for 2022 should be aware that application deadlines are in May, and that water viability studies must be completed by early March to request an application.

Locally, the City of Batesville and the Towns of Como and Sardis have water systems and provide service to their customers. The rest of the county is served by 19 other water associations of varying size. 

They are: ASL, Chickasaw Hills Subdivision, Concord-Macedonia, Enid-Locke Curtis, Enid Shores, Eureka, Hebron, Hide-a-Way Hills, Hotophia, Independence, Love Joy, Liberty Hill, Mt. Olivet, North Panola, Panola-Union, Pleasant Grove, Pope-Courtland, Plum Point, and Sardis Lake.