djr-2019-03-05-news-presley-twp3

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley

JACKSON • In response to Gov. Tate Reeves’ Declaration of a State of Emergency regarding the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) Saturday, the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) voted to temporarily suspend disconnections to certain utility services during a special meeting Sunday.

The PSC, which includes Chairman Dane Maxwell of the Southern District, Commissioner Brandon Presley for the Northern District and Commissioner Brent Bailey for the Central District, coordinated with Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Presley said both agencies recommended the actions be taken to protect the public health and welfare of citizens.

“Utility shutoffs during this time have multiple effects on our people. First and foremost is the protection of public welfare, for handwashing, but also as we move into social distancing, we do not need this to be an issue,” Presley said.

The restriction is effective immediately, will be in place for 60 days and apply to all water, sewer, electricity and gas services.

Customers will still owe for their usage and are encouraged to continue paying during this period, Presley said.

“We encourage customers to continue to pay their bill as normal, but this prohibits shutoffs for anyone who does not have the ability to pay during this time,” Presley said. “We do not take this type of action lightly, but we are taking it at the recommendation of the Health Department and MEMA.”

The action was possible because of a direction given in the Reeves’ declaration to examine any statutes, rules or regulations that may be temporarily suspended or modified if those regulations would hinder or delay action necessary to cope with the outbreak, according to a press release.

The special meeting was held to give notice to utilities before the work week begins and the action follows suit with other states that have taken similar action, Presley said.

The PSC will continue monitoring the situation with MSDH and MEMA and possibly visit the action in 30 days to see if the order needs to be expanded, amended or rescinded.

Some cities are not under the PSC jurisdiction and have municipal utilities that operate solely within their city limits or within one mile of their city limits, Presley said. The commission is recommending they follow suit with the order. The order does apply to water associations, power companies, power cooperatives and all electric, water, sewer and natural gas companies.

According to the release, the PSC encourages the public to participate in the measures The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mississippi Department of Health outlined in order to prevent transmission of COVID-19, such as frequent hand-washing, sanitizing commonly touched surfaces, and remaining at home if symptoms develop.

danny.mcarthur@journalinc.com

Twitter: @Danny_McArthur_

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