Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba speaks to media at City Hall Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Seven years after Jackson, a 200-year-old city with crumbling infrastructure and a $35,000 median household income, began overhauling its water meter and billing system, the city is taking one of its biggest contractors to court.

Jackson signed a $91 million performance contract with Siemens Industry Inc. in 2012 — making it one of the most expensive projects of its kind in the country.

In a deal the Mississippi Development Authority approved, Jackson agreed to pay roughly $1,000-per-meter for equipment and installation alone, according to the Jackson Free Press. By comparison, recent projects in San Francisco and Baltimore came with $285.71 and $208-per-meter price tags, respectively.

“In spite of the shocking cost, the system does not work,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in an press conference Tuesday. “Many water meters were installed negligently and approximately 10,000 of them do not work as I stand here today. The billing system furnished to the city as a part of the contract has also been a disaster. Many individual residents have been receiving exorbitant bills while some of the city’s largest institutional customers have never received a bill at all.”

Jacksonians have borne the brunt, as stories of residents receiving water bills in the thousands permeated local news reports. The city has also had trouble balancing it’s water revenues as a result.

Jackson officials allege Siemens scammed the city through a “’bait-and-switch’ that fell short of a true performance contract,” according to the city’s 44-page complaint filed in Hinds County Circuit Court Tuesday.

In a statement sent to news outlets, Siemens said an outside firm the city hired validated and reviewed their work.

“Siemens has gone above and beyond its contractual obligations to help address the city’s well-known challenges, which are complex,” the statement said. “While Siemens has not yet reviewed the complaint, it is disappointed the city has taken this action and will respond through the appropriate legal channels.”

The lawsuit is the culmination of years of issues plaguing the project, including the installation of faulty meters, meters that measured water in gallons instead of cubic feet and malfunctioning software.

The city says it is losing $2 million in revenue each month while it’s still obligated to pay $7 million in annual debt payments toward the faulty system. The city aims to recoup over $225 million, including the $90 million paid to Siemens, $75 million for lost revenue and damage to the city’s credit and several million for ongoing operations.

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Anna Wolfe is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who covers inequity and corruption in government safety net programs, nonprofit service providers and institutions affecting the marginalized. She began reporting for Mississippi Today in 2018, after she approached the editor with the idea of starting a poverty beat, the first of its kind in the state. Wolfe has received national recognition for her years-long coverage of Mississippi’s welfare program, in which she exposed new details about how officials funneled tens of millions of federal public assistance funds away from needy families and instead to their friends, families and the pet projects of famous athletes. Since joining Mississippi Today, she has received several national honors including the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting, the Livingston Award, two Goldsmith Prizes for Investigative Reporting, the Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, the Sacred Cat Award, the Nellie Bly Award, the John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award, the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, the Sidney Award, the National Press Foundation’s Poverty and Inequality Award and others. Previously, Wolfe worked for three years at Clarion Ledger, Mississippi’s statewide newspaper, where she covered city hall, health care, and wrote stories about hunger and medical billing, earning the Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Journalism two years in a row. Born and raised on the Puget Sound in Washington State, Wolfe moved to Mississippi in 2012 to attend Mississippi State University, where she currently serves on the Digital Journalism Advisory Board. She has lived in Jackson, Mississippi since graduating in 2014.