Mississippi city won’t lose lights after threat over debt

JACKSON, Miss. — An

entire city in Mississippi that

was under threat of losing

electricity before the end of

the year because of unpaid

bills will have more time to

find a new power provider

after the state stepped in, citing

concerns about safety and

public health.

“That is the fair, right and

honest thing for us to do,”

Brandon Presley, a Mississippi

public service commissioner,

said at a meeting

Thursday night in Itta Bena,

a city of 1,800 in the Mississippi

Delta. “We are in the

middle of a worldwide pandemic.

It is not an option for

electricity to be shut off in the

town of Itta Bena — it’s that


Municipal Energy Agency

of Mississipi, a wholesale

electricity provider, notified

officials in Itta Bena in late

August that it was pulling the

plug on Dec. 1. MEAM said

the city racked up $800,000

in debt over the course of 10


MEAM officials have said

they have tried at length over

the course of years to collect

payments and that the debt is

hurting their business.

Itta Bena has faced a

slew of economic challenges

throughout its history rooted

in racial inequality, white

flight and a declining tax

base. The city was founded

around 1850 as a cotton-producing

capital of the South

that relied on slave labor.

After the Civil War, slaves

were freed into a sharecropping

system that resulted in

generational poverty. Today,

the city is 90% Black and

40% of people live below the

poverty line.

Public officials paint differing

pictures to the cause of

the debt — Mayor J.D. Brasel

said citizens owe at least

$300,000 in unpaid bills to

the city. As a middleman of

sorts between residents and

MEAM, the city purchases

electricity from the wholesaler

to sell residents and is

responsible for the bill.

But former Mayor Thelma

Collins, who left office in

2017, said officials have long

known about the debt but prioritized

other projects. She

said lack of vision and planning

exacerbate problems.

During Thursday’s meeting,

Brasel said he doesn’t

want the city to lose power,

but there’s no way the city

will be able to find $800,000

in the next month.

“We know we owe

MEAM, we know we gotta

pay them. …We intend to

pay them, but I know we’re

not going to have the money

before Dec. 1 to pay them,”

he said.

Presley said MEAM

doesn’t want citizens to lose

service, either, but that it

doesn’t want to continue providing

service without proper

payment. A solution, Presley

says, is finding a new provider

for Itta Bena.


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