Increase in water rate passes first reading Tuesday

Friday, September 13, 2013

By Karen Hall

Editor

The motion to adopt an ordinance increasing the base rates for water and sewer was approved by a 4-1 vote when the City Council met Tuesday night.

There have to be two more favorable votes before the ordinance can come into effect. A public hearing must be held, and this is usually done before the second reading, probably before the regular council meeting in October.

If enough councilmen change their vote on the ordinance at the second or third reading it could still fail, explained City Manager Randall Dunn.

Ward 4 Councilman Trigg Cathey, also a member of the Water and Sewer Board, made the motion to approve the ordinance. He did stipulate that the Municipal Technical Advisory Service was to conduct a study of Lewisburg's water and sewer department after the first of the year, and rates would be adjusted according to their recommendation at the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2014).

"So the rates could go up more if MTAS suggests it?" asked Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. and Cathey said they could go up, but they could also go down.

When the roll call vote was taken, Councilman Robin Minor cast the only "no" vote, though Whitehead hesitated a long time before saying "yes."

During the citizens' comments period at the end of the meeting, councilmen got a tongue lashing from longtime political observer Betty Bigger of Cornersville Road.

"I'm disappointed in the councilmen going along with what the Water Department wants," she said. "You people are so gullible -- you'll believe anything. It's politics as usual: if you want something, you threaten.

"It frustrates me so much when I see a group of people fall for threats," she continued."

Bigger went on to complement Minor's presentation at the council work session on Sept. 4, stating, "It made all kinds of sense." Minor made more sense, she said, than Cathey's statements explaining the necessity of a rate increase, some of which were printed in the Sept. 6 Tribune.

"I'm labeled as a trouble maker because I speak my mind," said Bigger. "But I think the Water Department is out of line with this."

The next day, Dunn explained the proposed MTAS study would look at the operations of the Water and Wastewater Department, including its funding, reserves, and debt service, and recommend a rate structure for the department to operate as it should by law.

"By state law, utilities have to operate 'in the black,'" Dunn pointed out.

Almost overlooked at the end of citizens' comments was Leland Carden, chairman of the Lewisburg Downtown Alliance.

He reminded councilmen and citizens at the meeting that the LDA's final Second Saturday of the summer was this weekend, and said, "It promises to be our biggest."

Carden thanked Dunn and Mayor Jim Bingham for their help in putting on the Second Saturday events, and in getting insurance for them.

He said everyone was welcome at the LDA's meetings, held the fourth Thursday of every month. Carden said getting "Main Street" status for Lewisburg was one of the group's projects, along with several others.

"Things around the square are looking up," said Carden. "We have challenges -- buildings needing attention, and businesses moving -- but we hope to continue the progress we've seen so far. It's been five years now since we started."