Just two speak at public hearing on rate increase

Friday, October 11, 2013

By Karen Hall


A 10-minute public hearing on Ordinance 13-07, which fixes the new water and wastewater rates, was held before the City Council's October meeting Tuesday. There were about 20 extra people in the audience, but only two got up to speak.

One was Betty Bigger of Cornersville Road, who described herself as "a widow woman on a fixed income." Bigger said she worked for the state, and went for many years without getting a raise.

"Times are pretty tough," she said. "I really thought my $10 was going to pay off debt," not go toward the Water Department's "wish list" of new equipment and employee raises.

Commenting on former mayor Bob Phillips' visit to the council work session last week, Bigger said the purchase of Cornersville water system, and running the lines out Franklin Pike and Lynnville Highway, were described as "what Bob wanted."

"I know Bob doesn't want this (the rate increase)," Bigger said. "I'm against it."

Also speaking against the rate increase was Rick Dodson of West Commerce Street, who said, because he owns a business and several houses, the rate increase will cost him an extra $50 per month.

"I don't think we need $10 on it (the rate)," Dodson concluded.

During the council's meeting, when discussion turned to Ordinance 13-07, Councilman Robin Minor asked City Manager Randall Dunn to read from the transcript of the council's work sessions, "so the general public will know what was said."

After Dunn did this, clarifying that the rate increase was necessary because consumption was down, and state law requires a utility's revenues to exceed its expenditures, Minor turned his attention to the Water and Wastewater Department's budget.

"The state is not going to take us over if we don't buy those three trucks ... don't buy that backhoe. If we don't pay the debt, they will take us over in a heartbeat. I thought Councilman Whitehead had a good suggestion: raise the rate by $5 per month for eight months, while the Municipal Technical Advisory Service does an analysis."

Dunn said Minor asked him to try re-working the figures, lowering the rate increase to $6.50, eliminating employee raises and new equipment, and only increasing the amount spent on chemicals and debt service.

This still resulted in a deficit, Dunn reported.

"I hope no one thinks I'm against employee raises," Minor said. "Let's get this nonsense out of the way. The employees of the Water Department are valued. They have good retirement and benefits. It's not too much to ask them to bite the bullet for one year."

Councilman Trigg Cathey, a member of the Water and Sewer Board, quoted a letter from Director Kenneth Carr, where Carr stated all vehicle purchases had been put on hold. The department has bought no trucks or equipment since 2008 and are facing increasing maintenance requirements for the aging fleet.

"Safety must always be a concern," Carr wrote.

When the vote on the ordinance was called for, Minor and Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. voted "no," while Cathey and Councilman Steve Thomas unhesitatingly voted "yes." Councilman Artie Allen hesitated, but then also voted "yes."

The third and final vote will be taken at the Council's next meeting on Nov. 12.

Still on the subject of money, during citizens' comments Bigger got up again to demand a clarification on the cost of The Charlie Daniels Band, which drew a huge crowd at the Goats Music and More Festival.

"I heard the city paid $40,000, and then Councilman Thomas told me $20,000 Saturday morning," she said.

"Do you not know what's going on?" Bigger asked Thomas.

"I made a mistake; I was incorrect; I apologize," said Thomas, who earlier in the meeting asked City Treasurer Donna Park the cost of the band.

Park explained $20,000 was paid when the band was booked, and an additional $20,000 was paid the night of the performance.

"I appreciate you letting me talk," said Bigger.