The Smithville Aldermen Monday night voted 5 to 0 to keep water and sewer rates at their current levels to start the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1st.
The proposed 2009-2010 budget for the City of Smithville originally included an overall increase in water and sewer rates of 37%. The city's financial consultant Janice Plemmons Jackson told the aldermen in a workshop last Wednesday that the proposed increase was necessary since the city has not raised it's water and sewer rates in several years and revenues haven't kept pace with costs. According to Jackson, revenues have increased by 28% since 1999 but expenditures have risen by 77%. And while the city ended the 2007-08 fiscal year in the black by $330,384 in the water and sewer department, this year the city could be at a break even point or in the red. The actual net income or loss for the year apparently won't be known until after June 30th.
Jackson says if the water and sewer fund operates in the red for two years in a row, the state could force the city to raise rates to make the utility self supporting.
The alderman asked Jackson to figure the proposed overall rate increase at about 18% so they could make a cost comparison.
During Monday night's meeting, Alderman Tonya Sullivan presented a print out from Caney Fork Electric showing that total electrical usage at the water plant has increased by 31% since June, 2007 and that the average costs are up by 37% over the last two years. Sullivan says she believes this surge may be due to the inefficiency of the existing pumps.
Mayor Taft Hendrixson says officials of Wauford Engineering, who are designing plans for the rehab of the water plant, agree. "I have talked with Greg Davenport and he has come to the conclusion that these pumps may be using excess electricity because of their age. He is going to propose all new pumps instead of using rebuilt pumps. That may be where a lot of this is coming from."
Alderman Sullivan says she believes costs will come down once the water plant rehab is completed, so it may not be necessary to raise rates right now. "I don't think this is something that we need to jump to conclusions and start raising prices based on inefficient equipment. We are already in the process of replacing that equipment. If we repair or replace those pumps, I anticipate that we will continue to be in the black, as opposed to being borderline in the red.."
In response, Mayor Hendrixson said the savings may not be enough. " Greg (Davenport) thought that maybe the inefficiency would be no more than seven percent."
Mayor Hendrixson added that it's important to always have a little money left over from year to year in the water and sewer fund, and not run so close to the vest. "Just remember, over the years we've put a little extra money up (saved) every year, and now we've got the money to do (rehab) our water plant. Otherwise, we'd be floating bonds or borrowing money."
Alderman Willie Thomas made a motion that the water and sewer rates stay the same to start the new budget year, with no increases. Alderman Jerry Hutchins, Sr. seconded the motion. Aldermen Tonya Sullivan, Cecil Burger, and Steve White all voted in favor.
Alderman Sullivan pointed out that the city council could revisit the water and sewer rates at any time during the year "if numbers are not what we anticipate."
City water customers will continue to pay $3.50 for the first one thousand gallons of water usage plus $3.50 for each additional one thousand gallons of usage. Rates for customers outside the city limits are 50% higher. The rate the city charges the DeKalb Utility District is $1.85 per thousand gallons but will increase to $1.90 for January 1st, 2010 sales.
City sewer customers, under the new budget, will continue to pay the flat usage rate of $3.62 plus $3.25 per thousand gallons thereafter.
The aldermen also voted 5 to 0 to keep the water and sewer tap fees at the same rate, even though Mayor Hendrixson said the fees are not sufficient to cover costs." According to everything I can find out, we're losing money on every tap we make, especially sewer taps."
Water tap fees in the proposed budget for 2009-2010 would have gone from $400 to $1,000 for a 3/4 inch line and from $400 to $800 for a four inch sewer line. Larger lines would have been $2,000 for water and $1,200 for sewer taps. Outside the city limits, water taps would have gone from $525 to $1,500 for 3/4 inch water lines and from $525 to $1,000 for four inch sewer lines. Larger lines would have increased to $2,500 for water and $2,000 for sewer taps.
Alderman Steve White initially made a motion to raise those fees as called for in the proposed budget, but his motion died for the lack of a second. Alderman Jerry Hutchins, Sr. then moved that the tap fees remain the same, without any increases and revisit it at a later date. Alderman Willie Thomas seconded the motion. Aldermen Tonya Sullivan, Cecil Burger, and Steve White all voted in favor.
Passage of the proposed 2009-2010 budget was postponed until Thursday night, June 18th at 6:30 p.m. at city hall. Alderman Sullivan said she needed more time to study the document and made a motion to put it off. The motion was adopted unanimously.
The budget includes a two percent pay raise for city employees and a five dollar increase per call for the volunteer firefighters, going from $15 to $20 per call.
In other business, Gary Durham addressed the mayor and aldermen complaining that the city administration decided to increase fees for backdoor garbage pickup from $10 to $25 per month without consulting the aldermen or seeking their approval. "If you want to raise it, that's not a problem, I think the method of your increase is a problem."
Secretary-Treasurer Hunter Hendrixson says only a few residents subscribe to this service, mostly in the golf course area, and letters were sent, alerting them as to the increase. He says it was treated as a "day to day' operation matter. The aldermen took no action to reverse the decision so the increase will be imposed.
The aldermen voted 5 to 0 to adopt an ordinance on second and final reading amending the city's personnel policy to give city employees with ten consecutive years of service a three week vacation with pay.
The amendment states that "after ten years of consecutive service of full time officers and employees, there will be three weeks of paid vacation."
During the public hearing on this issue, former Smithville Mayor Waniford Cantrell asked that similiar consideration be given to the volunteer firefighters, perhaps in the form of "payment in lieu of vacation."
Cantrell said while city employees have received regular pay raises over the years, firefighters have not had an increase since he was mayor 25 years ago. "We've gone 25 years without giving them anything. All of our employees have been getting their step raises and cost of living raises while our firemen keep coming for $15 per call and on a two hour call that's not even paying them minimum wage. I'm concerned that we're not treating them right. That's shameful."
Mayor Hendrixson pointed out that the proposed budget for 2009-2010 includes an increase in pay for the firefighters.
The aldermen also voted 5 to 0 to adopt an ordinance amendment on second and final reading establishing a flat rate court cost of $85.00 for the Smithville City Court.
Mayor Taft Hendrixson says "the city currently has court costs ranging from $20 to $95. Most towns around us have gone to a flat court cost. This ordinance proposes an $85 court cost straight across the board. It just simplifies the court costs and the record keeping."
The ordinance states as follows: Whereas, the Municipal Court Reform Act of 2004 allows cities to set and collect reasonable municipal court costs in the amounts prescribed by ordinance;
Whereas, the City of Smithville has determined that it is necessary to establish reasonable court costs for the City Court.
Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Smithville, as follows:
Section 1. The following section is hereby amended:
In all cases heard and determined by him, the city judge shall impose court costs in the amount of $85.00.
One dollar of the court costs in each case shall be forwarded by the court clerk to the state treasurer to be used by the administrative office of the courts for training and continuing education courses for municipal court judges and municipal court clerks. The above amount does not include the $13.75 litigation tax levied by the State of Tennessee.
An ordinance was approved on second and final reading levying a litigation tax for the City of Smithville
Mayor Hendrixson says "On every case that goes before our city court, there's a state litigation tax of $14.75 which goes to the State of Tennessee. Our clerk has to send it to the state. DeKalb County and, as far as I know, everyone around us, has their own litigation tax. It's only people that break the laws of the City of Smithville, who will be paying this, it won't be your taxpayers. It's just a way to help operate the police department without raising taxes on the taxpayers. It will be an additional $13.75 city litigation tax."
The ordinance states as follows: Whereas, Public Chapter 488 of the Public Acts of 1981, which imposed a state litigation tax, has been interpreted by opinions of the State Attorney General as allowing cities to levy a litigation tax in the same manner as the litigation tax now levied by state law in an amount not to exceed the amount of such state litigation tax; and
Whereas, the City of Smithville does not impose a litigation tax as authorized by law and desires to levy such a tax to help pay for court and police related expenses; and
Now therefore, be it ordained by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Smithville that:
Section 1. Effective on the first day of each month following passage of this ordinance, a city litigation tax shall become effective as follows;
On cases in the city court there is hereby levied a city litigation tax to match the state litigation tax of $13.75
Section 2. The privilege taxes levied pursuant to this ordinance shall be paid to the City Recorder monthly to be used to assist in paying for the operation of the city court and the police department.
Section 3. This ordinance shall become effective on the first day of the month following the final passage of this ordinance."