Macon County Chronicle

RBS Assistant Chief Suspended Again... City Rate Increase Discussion Heats Up

The Red Boiling Springs City Council met in regular session last Thursday, August 12th, and ended with one less council member at the table, who abruptly exited City Hall during a heated discussion involving water and sewer rate increases.

Red Boiling Springs Vice Mayor John Cook presided over the meeting in the absence of City Mayor Kenneth Hollis, and it was a motion made by councilman Billy Joe Carver that led to the debate between the two elected officials and Carver’s unexpected departure.

The discussion began when Ed Walker of Barge Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon, spoke about his findings regarding the City’s Water Rate Study and recommended a 30 percent increase for customers on both water and sewer.

Walker reported that a financial analysis (2004-2009) of the water and sewer departments, showed that water revenues have decreased annually while expenses have increased approximately 10 percent annually. Likewise, on the sewer side, revenue from Nestle has decreased annually since 2006, and expenses, since 2005, have increased between 7 and 8 percent. 

“You have gone through a situation where your revenue has continued to decline and your expenses have gone up,” Walker told the council. “It’s not surprising that you’re in need of a rate increase. We calculated what we think is needed and that is a 30 percent increase on both the water and sewer side, to maintain an financial system that will continue to provide you with what you need to go forth.”

After Walker presented his findings, Cook shared his concerns about what such a large hike in price would do to residents and businesses.

“There is no way that the school, the Palace, the hotels, could afford a 30 percent increase,” he remarked.

Seconds later, Carver made the motion to increase water and sewer rates 15 percent this year and an additional 15 percent next year, which began the debate between the two men.

“That’s still too much Billy Joe,” Cook said. “I bet you don’t run your checkbook the way the City runs this water department. If we don’t cut some expenses, it’s a runaway train.”

Cook noted the excessive amount of uncollected money owed to the City’s water and sewer department and people who were recently found to have been stealing City water.

“I don’t think the people of Red Boiling Springs are ready for us to throw a rate increase until we make some cuts. And I agree with you Billy Joe, there’s got to be some kind of raise, but there’s also got to be some kind of cut.”

Councilman Stevie Newberry then seconded the motion made by Carver, and discussion continued.

“We’ve got a water superintendent (Brian Long) making $937 a week and he’s not been to our meetings in two or three months,” Cook said. “Somebody’s going to have pull the reigns in on this department.”

Council member Carver then suggested that the council end discussion and take a vote, to which Cook replied, “No, I am discussing it. I can discuss it and I’m going to. We’re not going to play by the rules you’ve been playing when I’m chairman by railroading in votes. We’re going to talk about it.”

At that point Carver made the motion to adjourn, seconded by Stevie Newberry.

“I’m not adjourning,” Cook said. “If you want to leave and you can’t handle it, then leave.”

Carver exited City Hall and the remaining council members voted on Carver’s motion to increase water and sewer rates by 15 percent. The motion failed (2-2), with Stevie Newberry and Willy Brown voting to approve the motion and Cook and Terry Newberry voting against it. Council member Bobby Etheridge was absent from the meeting.

Under the topic of rate increases, Ordinance #10-8: increasing garbage rates, was read on second and final reading. The ordinance died on lack of a motion to approve the ordinance.

Before the meeting adjourned, Cook spoke to the remaining council members about the financial situation of many of the City’s residents.

“We were elected to serve the people inside these City limits, and times are real tough right now,” he began. “I totally realize that we haven’t had a water increase in quite some time, but I’m also aware that if we’d gone in there and talked to Coby and Paulette (City Clerks) before we spent $25,000 or $30,000 to get this rate study, we could’ve got the same answer from them. And we should’ve been increasing rates as we go and cutting as we go because I’m telling you; the school, the Palace and the hotels, there’s no way they can handle a 15 percent rate increase, much less a 30. I think that people understand why you have to have a rate increase, but they only understand once you’ve tightened your belt. I’m sorry Billy Joe got mad, but if I’m going to be chairman, we’re not going to railroad through motions when I’m sitting here, we’re going to discuss them. We’ve got a long road to hoe right now, and we’ve got to start cutting and slightly increasing or we’re going to do this town a horrible injustice.”

Council member Terry Newberry also reminded the council about his disapproval of the five percent raises given to all City employees this year.

“We gave a five percent increase to all City employees, which is fine if you can do that,” he said. “But we’re not in the situation now that we’re able to do that. And now we throw a 30 to 45 percent increase to people, it just doesn’t make sense.”

In other business:

Police Department

Red Boiling Springs Assistant Chief of Police Doug McDonald was listed on the agenda to speak to the council, but did not attend the meeting.

Vice Mayor Cook asked Chief of Police Terry Tuck, who was in attendance, if McDonald had been suspended again, and Tuck confirmed that he had.

“What for this time?” Cook asked.

“Same as before,” Tuck responded.

“What was before?” asked councilman Terry Newberry.

“Not reporting to work and notifying his supervisor,” Tuck said.

“And this is the second or third time?” Newberry asked.

“I know he was reprimanded over the time clock thing and then he was suspended and now he’s been suspended again,” Cook said. “Do we need to take further action on it?”

“I don’t think so,” Tuck stated. “Not at this time. I spoke with the Mayor before we did anything and that’s what he recommended. When he gets back in town we’ll address it further.”

Chief Tuck said McDonald has been suspended for two weeks.

Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon

The council voted unanimously to advertise for bids for the painting of the Osh Kosh water tank. The selected bidder is expected to appear before the council at next month’s meeting. The cost of the job is estimated to be around $400,000.

Vice Mayor John Cook voiced his concerns about the City’s water and sewer computer system, expressing his fears about the lack of protective software, firewalls and potential hackers. Cook was told his questions could be answered by Thomas Controls, the company that installed the system.

Cook also spoke about a RBS citizen who shared his concerns on the quality of the City’s drinking water after a dripping faucet bleached a washrag left in the sink while he went on a 10-day vacation. After hearing of the incident, Cook performed his own experiment with a washrag and presented the rag to the council, pointing out a large area that was noticeably lighter.

“If this is happening to rags, is it safe for everyone to be drinking?” he asked. “It’s bleaching rags and it doesn’t appear to be safe. Is it safe to be strong enough to bleach rags?”

Ed Walker of BWS&C responded by saying “Without seeing the chemical analysis of the water, I couldn’t say yay or nay. I know your water is tested on a monthly basis and information is sent to Nashville. You need to know what your chlorine residual is.”

“Would you agree that this should be looked into?” Cook asked Walker.

“I think you need to find out what your residuals are, yes sir, I have no idea what type of residuals you’ve got,” he responded.

Cook asked that the information be relayed to George Garden of BWS&C.

Tourism Advertising Contribution

The council unanimously voted to contribute $466 to Upper Cumberland Tourism for county advertising in the Official Tennessee Vacation Guide after a presentation by Upper Cumberland Tourism Director Ruth Dyal.

The total cost of the advertisement is $1,398 with the county, City of Lafayette and City of Red Boiling Springs each contributing one-third of the cost.

Dyal explained that other counties that have advertised in the highly circulated magazine have welcomed a substantial increase in website visits and tourism. The guide is available in print and online to tourists searching for attractions in Tennessee.

Planning Commission

Ordinance #10-7, Municipal Flood Damage Prevention, was approved on second and final reading. The ordinance outlines the minimum requirements for FEMA to provide the City with flood insurance.

Fire Department

The council voted unanimously to allow Bill Moss, who recently left the ambulance service, to be put on the fire department as an ‘Inactive Member,’ who will standby at the scene of fires in the event someone is hurt.