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New mayor: City 'is in serious trouble'

ITTA BENA, Miss. (AP) — Thelma Collins becomes mayor of the town of Itta Bena on July 1. Along with the job, she inherits a $500,000 debt.

“The city of Itta Bena is in serious trouble,” Collins told the Greenwood Commonwealth.

If the issues are not resolved, she said, “all of us will be shut down.”

The town’s biggest debt is to the Municipal Energy Agency of Mississippi, a six-city electricity cooperative from which Itta Bena’s utility system purchases its power.

The town of about 2,000 residents owes MEAM more than $497,000 stretching over several years of unpaid and partially paid invoices. In a June 12 letter to the city, MEAM said that it would not “continue to absorb Itta Bena’s shortfalls. MEAM is at the point of having to do something about the situation.”

Itta Bena also owes more than $7,000 to the Leflore County Solid Waste Department; $15,568 to the Mississippi Public Employees’ Retirement System; and $15,000 to the Greenwood accounting firm of Taylor, Powell, Wilson and Hartford, which had previously conducted the city’s annual audits.

The city has not been audited since 2010.

In addition, Collins said that the city’s lagoon is out of compliance with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s standards. If that issue isn’t addressed in the near future, the city can expect a fine.

Collins said she’s seen Itta Bena through pervious bouts of fiscal woe but never this bad. Collins has served as mayor of Itta Bena on two previous occasions.

“It was bad last time, but it’s even worse this time,” Collins said. “Especially with MEAM, I had to go to Jackson like I did this time.”

Collins said she won’t accept her $800-per-month salary for her first year in office so that the city may put all of its resources toward its debt.

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