Contractor picks up 2 Jackson vacuum trucks after city falls behind on invoices

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Jackson, Mississippi's seal(WLBT)
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 7:06 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson recently lost two of its sewer vacuum trucks for lack of payment.

This week, the owner of the vehicles informed the city that it was picking them up after the city failed to pay invoices for three or four months.

The owner declined to comment to WLBT and asked that his company not be named. It was unclear how much the city owed.

Ward 5 Councilman Vernon Hartley said the city’s failure to pay the bills was a problem.

“We’re talking public health risks right here,” he said. “These vacuum trucks provide a vital service, [and] we need even more. To have them pulled out of service leaves us with a bigger problem.”

The trucks were equipped with vacuum and “jetting” devices, which are used to unclog backed-up sewer lines.

More than half of the sanitary sewer overflows reported between April 1 and June 30 occurred due to grease or solid buildups in sewer transmission mains.

Jackson must submit reports to the EPA and U.S. Department of Justice as part of its sewer consent decree requirements.

Under the decree, the city must do routine cleanings of its sewer mains to ensure pipes” can carry full pipe flow without any restrictions that might result in blockages due to reduced pipe capacity.”

Public Works also must be “adequately equipped to keep up with critical maintenance requirements.”

It was unknown how many vacuum trucks the city still has in operation.

As part of Jackson's sewer maintenance plan, it must do regular line cleanings and have the...
As part of Jackson's sewer maintenance plan, it must do regular line cleanings and have the equipment in place needed to do it.(WLBT)

Hartley says Jackson should prioritize payments for anything related to public health and has spoken with Chief Financial Officer Fidelis Malembeka about the problem.

“I’ve asked the chief financial officer to ensure that [any bills] regarding public health are paid with priority,” he said. “My hope is that the financial office [takes] that to heart.”

Malembeka was not familiar with the trucks when asked about it at a Ward 2 Town Hall meeting on Tuesday.

“There were two invoices that were in arrears that got cleared, so that issue was resolved,” he said.

Malembeka said the city was planning to set aside funds in its 2022-23 budget to purchase some of the equipment that it currently leases.

He wasn’t sure if vacuum trucks were included, but said the city was looking at lease-to-own agreements for sewer bypass pumps. Public Works currently uses the devices to carry waste from one manhole to another, to essentially bypass broken lines.

The city currently leases each pump for about $2,500 a week.

Malembeka said the amount the city spends to lease the equipment could be spent to purchase it outright.

“When you are renting, you might not think about the duration,” he said. “And if you really have no plan, what happens is you might end up renting that equipment for a prolonged time.”

“And when you do the calculation, you’d actually be better off buying, because you might spend that amount in rentals,” he said. “So, that’s an analysis that I am really pushing our team to look at... What is the duration of this rental? Where can we look at some permanent solutions? You’d be amazed to find out that you buy multiple [pieces] of that type of equipment.”

Budget hearings for the 2022-23 budget began on August 8 and will continue through the beginning of September. The city council is slated to hear the budget presentation for the Public Works Department on Wednesday, August 17.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m., at Jackson City Hall.

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