(WMC-TV) - Some Shelby County commissioners are up in arms over a buzz that Memphis Light Gas and Water (MLGW) will suspend free water service to city schools when Memphis and Shelby County schools merge next year.
MLGW currently provides free water to all Memphis public schools. But come August 2013, city schools cease to exist.
Some people think MLGW needs to keep up the service. Others say even schools need to pay their own way.
"It bothers the heck out of me and I'm hoping the City Council will put some pressure on MLGW," said Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy.
Councilman Myron Lowery is vice chair of the council's MLGW committee. He said the council has not entered this battle.
He thinks MLGW should continue the service, but not just for students inside the city limits.
"I find it difficult to believe Light, Gas and Water or the City of Memphis would deny water to a unified school system when we've been providing it to the Memphis City School system," said Lowery.
WMC-TV met with MLGW President Jerry Collins to get the utilities' position on the matter.
He said free water for students in the merged Unified School system is outside MLGW's purview.
"This is a city charter item. So the board really doesn't have any say so to overrule the city charter," said Collins.
The Memphis City Charter says, "The light, gas and water commissioners shall furnish free, sufficient water for the school board, and may also furnish free to said city such additional water as the light, gas and water commission may deem expedient for public purposes."
The agreement appears nowhere in MLGW's books.
"That only extends to schools that are city schools. Doesn't include private schools. Doesn't include county schools," explained Collins.
Plus, MLGW is a Memphis entity, not a Shelby County entity.
Collins said he cannot imagine the MLGW Board even entertaining a vote on continuing free water for students inside the Memphis city limits after the merger, because at that moment Memphis City Schools will cease to exist.
"Does Germantown give free water to Germantown High School? Does Bartlett give free water to Bartlett high School?" asked Collins.
The answer is no.
Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, and Millington operate their own water systems.
But only Memphis students get free water because of the city charter.
Collins says if people have to pay for water in their homes, everyone should have to pay.
This means county taxpayers will have an added expense of $686,000 per year to provide water to students living inside the Memphis city limits.