Macon County Chronicle

RBS Faces Financial Crisis: Mayor Hollis Responds by Hiring More City Employees

Red Boiling Springs City Council members convened for their regular monthly meeting on Thursday, July 8, butting heads on the financial dealings of the City’s Utilities & Sanitation Departments.

The disagreement began when Red Boiling Springs Mayor Kenneth Hollis suggested hiring a full-time employee in the utilities department, shortly after Barge, Wagoner, Sumner & Canon representative Larry Cato recommended a 30 percent increase in City water rates and a 45 percent increase in City sewer rates in order to compensate for the declining financial state of the utilities department.

Councilman John Cook voiced his confusion as to why Mayor Hollis would consider hiring another full-time utilities employee after learning about the department’s financial troubles noting that the full-time position Mayor Hollis recommended be filled, has been open for the past three years when former employee Ricky Rice resigned.

“The utilities department needs to get a hold of itself before we start spending more money,” Cook said. “You’ve got utility vehicles sitting here at City Hall all of the time, you have people complaining all the time and your just adding more of a burden to City taxpayers. Why do you think you broke the water department and need a rate increase? It hasn’t been managed and you’re not going to fix it by hiring a bunch more people.”

City Wastewater Manager Chad Owens addressed the council on the subject, noting that himself, Mayor Hollis and utilities supervisor Ray Long were appointed to choose the applicant most qualified for the advertised position. Owens added that the committee recommended Jerry Mason for the position, due to his experience in water treatment. Ten candidates were interviewed, according to Owens.

“I think we need to show the people in Red Boiling Springs that we’re trying to cut costs in the City instead of adding costs to justify a water rate increase of 30 percent … that’s a lot,” commented council member Terry Newberry. “We went three years without anybody in the position so why do we need to fill it now?”

“I don’t think the problem is hiring another employee,” Cook added. “I think the problem is managing the ones we’ve got.”

The motion was made to hire Mason at $11 an hour by Billy Joe Carver and seconded by Bobby Etheridge. Voting against hiring a full-time utilities employee were Cook and T. Newberry, with Billy Joe Carver, Bobby Etheridge, Willie Brown and Steve Newberry voting to approve the new hire.

Cato told the council last month that the water/sewer rate study performed by BWS&C illustrated a 14 percent decrease in revenue from 2009, a 10 percent increase in repair & maintenance expenses over 2009 and a 40 percent decrease in sewer use at Nestle. “At the rate you’re going by the end of the year, it looks like you’re going to be real close to being in the red, if you’re not in the red,” he commented during the June meeting. The council voted unanimously to table the topic of the water/sewer rate study recommendations for two weeks, when a special called meeting is expected to be scheduled. 

Continuing on the topic of the utilities department, Water Superintendent Brian Long (not present during the meeting) submitted a proposal for a single bid to demolish the water tank on Nimm Rd., which Mayor Hollis presented to the council.

Discussion on the topic was tabled until Long could be present to explain the reasons behind the demolition, as council members had never been approached with the subject.

As requested during last month’s meeting, ordinance #10-7 was presented to the council regarding the dumpster service schedule and price guide.

While the new price guide for dumpster service will ultimately only effect 13 Red Boiling Springs businesses, the ordinance also includes a garbage rate increase for all residential customers, both inside (increased to $11 a month) and outside City limits (increased to $15 a month), and will eliminate all ‘behind-the-house’ trash pick-ups.

The dumpster price guide was created by taking into consideration the size of the dumpster (4,6,8 or 10 yards) and the number of pick-ups needed per week.

The council passed the ordinance, 4-2, with Cook and T. Newberry voting against it.

“You’re milking these citizens of Red Boiling Springs,” Cook remarked in opposition. “You, yourself came up with an idea to save $30,000 (by cutting all full-time positions) and it’s a good idea…and we supported it. But on top of that, now your throwing a huge garbage rate increase to them?”

“We are,” Mayor Hollis responded.

“I’m not,” said Cook. “You’re doing the citizens inside the City limits awful. This is wrong.”

“This is what we’ve been going through for the past five or six months,” Hollis said.

“You haven’t done anything you said you were going to do. You didn’t got to the committee meetings, you didn’t go to the work session. You did what you wanted to do to throw it to the citizens Kenneth and you know it.”

Carver made the motion to adopt the ordinance on first reading and council member Etheridge seconded the motion.

“You’re wrong for doing this,” Cook told Carver.

“That may be. I’ve been wrong before,” Carver responded.

Cook and T. Newberry voted against the ordinance. Brown, Etheridge, S. Newberry and Carver voted to approve.

City Sanitation employee Justin Adams appeared before the council, stating that he will be leaving for the Police Academy and requested the council grant him a leave of absence for the eight weeks he will be gone, which would allow Adams to return to his current position with the City after the eight week period.

Red Boiling Springs Mayor Kenneth Hollis suggested the council lay Adams off instead of granting him a leave of absence, to which City Council member John Cook replied, “If we lay him off that’s going to cost money out of our Tennessee Unemployment fund. That’s going to be a cost to the taxpayers.” Cook then called for a discussion on the topic.

“We’re not in a position to be laying people off,” he continued. “This is wrong to lay somebody off when you have a position open for them.”

Both Cook and councilman Terry Newberry voted against laying Adams off, but were outnumbered by ‘yes’ votes cast by Bobby Etheridge, Billy Joe Carver, Steve Newberry and Willie Brown. Adams is estimated to be leaving for the Police Academy in two weeks.

Also involving the Sanitation Department was the hiring of one part-time truck driver and one part-time helper (positions became available after laying off Adams and voting to transfer one full-time sanitation employee to an opening in the utilities department).

Anthony Knight was recommended by Owens to fill the part-time driver position and Jeff Arms was recommended to fill the part-time helper position. T. Newberry was the only council member in opposition of the new hires. 

Knight’s salary was set at $12 per hour and Arms’ salary was set by the council at $8 per hour.

In other business:

  • RBS resident Kathy Tuck spoke to the council about removing gravel that has washed into her yard from the road. Installing a 24-inch tile and possible ditching were discussed as solutions.
  • Planning commission: The council accepted the resignation of planning commission member John Cook and replaced the open position with City Council member Billy Joe Carver.
  • Ordinance #10-7 was approved unanimously on first reading. The Municipal Flood Damage Prevention ordinance regulates the development within the corporate limits of the City to minimize danger to life and property due to flooding, and to maintain eligibility for participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.
  • Natural Gas: Jill Kittinger and Zach Littrell of Atmos Energy Marketing spoke to the council about the City’s options for locking in natural gas prices during the winter months (October through March), in order to stabilize customers’ bills. After a presentation about the risks and advantages of doing so, the council voted unanimously to set 50 percent of the City’s winter natural gas usage at a fixed rate. City Wastewater Manager Chad Owens will be working with Atmos to lock-in the winter months fixed price. Other customers of Atmos include Lafayette, Cookeville, Gallatin and Lebanon.
  • Fire Department: Bradley Bury and Sharon Rice were added to the department.
  • City Employee Raises: On July 1, budget approved 5 percent employee cost of living raises went into effect.