Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ho Hum Debate

The biggest news out of the debate was that McCain was coming. Word on the street is that Governor Haley Barbour told him, in so many words, to get his butt down here or else. If there was one thing all Mississippians agreed on, it was that the debate must go on - we wanted our moment in the national spotlight. Haley wasn't about to be embarrassed by having his nominee ruin Mississippi's day.

I read somewhere today (sorry but I forget where) that a debate is like Nascar. Everyone watches for one reason - to see a crash. Unfortunately, there was no crash. There were some fender benders, but they were about equal. I doubt seriously that this debate will win or change any votes.

However, I did go to a great debate watching party and enjoyed great food, drink, and friends - all Democrats, of course. (Contrary to popular opinion, there are some here.)

UPDATE: All the polls are saying that Obama won the debate quite handily.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

AG Jim Hood to the Rescue

Attorney General Jim Hood said Entergy is playing a shell game with energy and fuel costs to drive up its profits at the expense of ratepayers - and he's taking them to court to prove it. Way to go, Mr Attorney General! Finally, someone is standing up for us poor souls trying to pay our bills.

Some of you may recall that back in July, I posted an open letter to the Public Service Commission about Entergy's outrageous fuel charges. As I predicted, the PSC did not bother to respond to my letter. (These elected officials need to learn that they work for the voters - and they'd better start answering their letters.) It's true that about a week later, the PSC did tell Entergy to lower its fuel cost adjustment, but it was too little too late. Looked to me like a deal worked out between the PSC and Entergy to make them look good.

But apparently Attorney General Jim Hood, unlike the PSC members, is not in the pocket of the utilities, and he is really looking out for the consumers.

When Entergy raised their rates by 28%, AG Hood asked very nicely if they would please give his office the documents about its pricing policies and its buying and selling practices. But Entergy said no - that he had no right to the information. Excuse me, Entergy, but you are a PUBLIC utility, and he is the State's Attorney General. Of course, he has the right to the information, you idiots!

So did the AG back down like all the other wimps that run this state? Hell no! He took them to court and sued for the documents. So why in the world would Entergy refuse to give the AG the documents, when I'm sure their well paid attorneys told them they had to do? It's pretty obvious, isn't it? They're hiding something. They're hiding that their profits are out of sight, while the poor Mississippi taxpayer is struggling to make ends meet.

Just in case you think the AG is off on some wild goose chase trying to get publicity, just look at what happened in Louisiana where an Entergy subsidiary was charged with deceptive pricing schemes and overcharging customers. According to Consumer Affairs:
"In Louisiana in recent years, Entergy has been ordered to repay more than $100 million to ratepayers who had been overcharged by the company in two separate cases going back to 2000. In addition, Louisiana's efforts to recover the money has resulted in additional savings of more than $150 million for customers."

One of the many things I like about our Attorney General is the way he just tells it like it is.
"For decades, Entergy Mississippi has operated under the premise of 'just trust us, we know what's best for you.' But secrecy is never best when it comes to the pocketbooks of hardworking Mississippians who struggle each month to keep their lights on. . . But I have news for Entergy. The law in this matter is on the side of ratepayers and this office is charged with protecting their interests. We are going to shine some light on these practices and allow our citizens to look inside the company that is supposed to be serving them."

I don't know about you, but I think lower electric bills would be mighty nice - not to mention a few hundred million dollars.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Your Library Really Needs You Monday

Your Library desperately needs an increase in the funding it receives from the City of Natchez. Unfortunately, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, in their infinite wisdom, seem not to have granted the request. The public hearing for the budget is Monday, September 15 at 5 pm in the City Council Chambers.

Please come and tell the City you don't mind paying a couple of bucks extra a year to help your Library.

How much extra? The exact amount will be presented at the hearing, but the average homeowner would have to pay $2 - $3 extra a year. The Library's funding was put on dedicated millage in 2006, but the rate - a little more than 2.5 mills - was figured to give the Library exactly the same amount it had the year before. The Library has requested it be increased to 3 mills.

The Concordia Parish Library. with only 20,000 population, gets 8.5 mill bringing in $850,000. Do the math! Adams County has almost twice the population, but slightly more than a third the millage. Something is wrong with this picture.

Did you know that the Library has not had an increase in funding in 10 years? Imagine the shape your household would be in if your household income had stayed exactly the same for 10 years - no cost of living and no inflation factor. Only through excellent management and creative financing solutions has the Library been able to keep up as well as it has with the needs of this community.

But you can only do so much before you reach the end of your rope - that's where the Library is right now. To understand the dilemma, you need to know that the City owns the Library building, and the Library must pay all of its operating expenses. Although the Library serves all the citizens of Adams County, it does not receive funds from the County government - only from the City. In addition, the Library obtains funds through state and federal grants, as well as any other grants it can find.

If you go by the Library, you will see that the outside of the building badly needs repainting and some structural repairs. However, the City will not pay for this - because it says it has buildings in worse condition. Hurricane Gustav made the exterior situation even worse. Insurance will pay for the damage done by Gustav itself, but not for the wear and tear on a building whose exterior is in such a state of disrepair.

If you frequent the Library, you know the long running saga of the air conditioning. The Library frequently has to close for days at a time when it's not working. When it is working, it gets so cold that heaters have to be used in parts of the building. That's because the air conditioning has to run all the time, because the thermostats quit working years ago. The system cannot be repaired - it needs a major overhaul or even complete replacement. Paul Dawes and his staff at the Inspections and Building Department are very good at performing miracles at keeping it going - but there is a limit to even their abilities. Do you know how much the Library paid for electricity last month? Almost $7000! It should be less than half of that. I bet if the City had to pay that electric bill, they'd do something about the air conditioning.

Now, the Library cannot pay for the air conditioning with the increase in millage - in fact it is not allowed to make capital improvements - one of the conditions for some of the grants received from the State. That is the responsibility of the local government. However, it may be able to pay for part of it - and it stands a much better chance of obtaining grants if it can show the City's willingness to invest in the Library.

Plus, with the increase, the Library could probably get the exterior of the building painted and repaired - and could do some much needed repairs inside. It could also expand the hours that it's open and increase the services provided to patrons. There is so much the Library could do with that couple of bucks.

So if the increase is so small and the need is so great, why didn't the City approve it? Well, you'll have to ask them, but here's my theory. Once the County announced they were cutting their taxes, the City didn't want to look bad by increasing theirs.

I know for some people and some politicians, cutting taxes in the most important thing in the world. They could care less if their infrastructure is collapsing. (Do you hear me, Henry Watts?) However, there are also citizens and politicians that understand that investing in your community pays off in the long run. Just look at how easily the hotel tax passed referendum. Citizens will pay taxes, if they think it will be spent wisely and will benefit the community.

So will you please come to the hearing and tell the Mayor and Board that you're willing to invest a couple of bucks in your Library?

Monday, September 15 at 5 pm
City Council Chambers

FULL DISCLOSURE: I work part time at the Library.