January 3rd Meeting
On Thursday, January 3rd, Carthage City Council convened for two separate meetings. The first meeting was a specially called meeting, and the agenda included compliance issues with regard to the Carthage Waste Water Treatment Plant.
Brett Ward, with MTAS Waste Water Compliance, joined us on behalf of Mayor Smith’s concerns regarding our liabilities with receiving leachate from the county landfill (I had previously written an article about that issue, click here for that link: https://www.coleebel.com/blog/2018/9/24/landfill-treatment-line).
Mr. Ward stated that the way the contract was enacted by the previous mayors, Nesbitt and Dennis, was not, in fact, a binding document, but an agreement which would not hold up in court should a liability issue occur. He also stated issues with the city ammonia levels being out of regulation when the city began receiving leachate from the county landfill. This issue was brought up to the engineer in charge of the leachate line as well as the county landfill manager, both of whom said the spike in levels had been corrected since and Mr. Ward concurred. One issue that concerned me is that it was the city who found those levels, not the county landfill, and both the city and the county should be checking levels and compare should we receive this leachate. Ammonia is very toxic and can cause serious problems if not properly kept in check.
In addition to ammonia, Mr. Ward also stated there were several other tests that would need to be done to ensure compliance. I asked the experts in the room, who I consider much more knowledgable than myself, if it would help remedy the issue that should we have these tests done and if levels go out of compliance, the city would have the authority to shut off the valve for the leachate into the sewer system.
I, by no means, consider myself an expert regarding these chemicals nor an expert on our water treatment plant. Until I attend the water training later this month, which I signed up for, I will be relying on our sewer treatment employees, the county landfill manager, the engineer in charge of the line, MTAS as well as CTAS experts. After much information was shared, debate and deliberation, I motioned that we continue the agreement with the county until the March meeting so we could get the information from the experts on the table whether this was a beneficial project for the county and the city. In my opinion, most people in the room felt this was the best move forward and the council voted 6-0 in favor of extending the agreement through March on the condition that CTAS, MTAS, the city sewer treatment plant employees and the county and city attorneys all met in order to help us make a better decision.
While I don’t in any way, shape or form want this leachate being pumped into the sewer as is, I think it is important to get all the details before we put the county and city in a bind. I want to make it clear that I am a strong advocate for the environment, especially our rivers. Minimum compliance should not be our goal, but going above and beyond the minimal when treating the runoff into our rivers should be our objective.
I am an avid kayaker and I also drink the water along with my family so this issue does concern me and I want this issue treated properly and the correct tests conducted. Our river is a vital part of the community and it is our duty to protect it as citizens. In order for us to make a good decision on whether we want this line going through our sewer facility, we need to have the experts meet and evaluate their recommendation. I am open to whatever suggestions they put forth, but if I am not comfortable with the environmental aspect of this project, I will vote against it.
I feel both the city and the county share these concerns and I feel all new office holders in the county and the city would like to see the results from these talks. Personally speaking with both Mayor Mason and Mayor Smith, both were very concerned with us not dumping anything that would pollute our waterways above safe levels. While I do not like this still being pumped in to our sewer over the next couple of months, the experts in the room seemed divided on this issue. Our water plant does not seem to want to take the water as is, but seemed open as long as it was treated properly. Proper treatment and testing procedures for leachate water will have to be explained to the council before an informed decision can be made.
I hope I made the right call on this and I am open to criticism if you feel I did not for motioning the extension of business as normal for the next 60 days. I want to do the right thing for everyone, but you, my constituents voiced to me that you would like more information and I felt it would be in our best interests to extend this to find out this information.
Moving on to the regularly scheduled council meeting for the evening, the first item on the agenda was the approval for the meeting minutes from the last meeting. I voted to approve these minutes as I saw no inconsistencies with the last meeting. The next item on the agenda was approving bills over $2,000.00.
I abstained from these votes as I did not previously see these bills nor know what they were for. From my understanding, they were for fixing a vehicle transmission as well as a large sum going to Mr. Jerry Warren, the old city engineer for unknown reasons. They seemed like very large expenses, expenses which should be budgeted in my opinion. I recently asked Mr. Michael Ray to provide copies of these bills a few days before the meeting so that I could review and share with you, the constituents, in order to voice your questions and concerns on approval of these bills. While I understand things come up and spending does happen, I feel we should have a budget for vehicle repair and for whatever it is we are paying out thousands of dollars to Mr. Warren.
Next, Mayor Smith gave her report. She mentioned having a suggestion box from you, the constituents, on what you would like to see done here in the city.
I personally feel this is a great idea, I would like to see this implemented as it would get citizens more involved and communicating with your council and Mayor more often.
There were no reports from the City Attorney, Police Department, Fire Department or Public Works Department. The Water Plant received its new part in and the sewer plant discussed the seal failure cables. Mr. Ray discussed continuing to get quotes on anti-virus software for the city.
We then proceeded to move into old business, where Mayor Smith brought in Mr. John Poole, to give us a report on why we had water bill increases several years ago. Councilman Petty expressed concern that this was old business and many knew why water bills had been raised in the past. I stated I did not know why and would like to hear the report, along with several other financial reports on where we are with the city.
What was basically explained is that state regulations enacted back in 2010 requires our water distribution to act as a business, whereas we must always make a profit. The reason for the water bill increase several years back was that we were not in compliance with state codes and we had to have some very unpopular increases. It was also mentioned that we had a $250,000 surplus in revenue from the water department. In my opinion, this means one thing: we are charging too much for water and too much for water late fees. I would like to dig into decreasing late fees as I feel a 20% late fee is astronomical and can really hurt our families, especially those who live paycheck to paycheck.
We have a 1.8 million dollar utility fund, which is good, as we need funds to keep the water flowing and our infrastructure up to date, as many of them date back to the 1940’s and 1970’s. We currently owe around 2 million in debt on all of our water equipment.
Next, we moved into the grant / loan update, presented by Mrs. Dawn Kupferer with Kwill Consultants. We are currently on the line for 5 different grants.
The first is the “Funding for Prevention and Intervention for At-Risk Youth” Grant, which is headed up by Judge Michael Collins.
This grant is designed to assist with programs to create programs for at-risk youth. Many of you voiced to me during the campaign the lack of things for our youth to do in the community. While I do not see this as an issue which the government can solve, I do feel it is an issue we as a community can. If we can find some viable solutions for this funding to give our youth opportunities which keep them out of trouble, I am in. I feel with a combination of privately donated fund, donated time and some of the grant money, we can combine these resources to come up with some solutions. I would personally like to hear ideas from you. There are stipulations with the money, but right now, the balance sits at right over $206,000.
The next grant was the Turkey Creek Water Tank Grand which was a matching grant, where the city will match $138,000.00 of the grant total to install a new water tank at Turkey Creek. I don’t like how much we have to put into it, but one of the few roles I see government maintaining is our water supply so I am in favor of continuing this grant.
The next grant was in regards to the Recreational Trails Program for the walking track.
This is an 80/20 grant, meaning we are responsible for 20% of the entire cost of the project which is $110,000. This puts us on the line for $22,000. I do not know where we are with this project, but I feel this project is a want, not a need. While we are having infrastructure issues and having trouble getting new businesses to move into the downtown, I feel this project should be put on hold.
The next grant discussed was the Amphitheater Park Grant. This was a project that almost everyone I spoke with had an issue with. Many didn’t like the location, most didn’t like the cost and almost everyone felt this was rammed through without sufficient input from the constituents.
The amphitheater backs up into a residential area and every neighbor I spoke with did not want it there and had concerns on the noise. Councilwoman Scott voiced that the amphitheater would not be noisy and I respectfully disagreed as an amphitheater is specifically designed to “amplify” noise. Additionally, the bid came back tens of thousands of dollars higher than expected and this is another 80/20 grant, and we are also into the project $10,000. I don’t think investing 10k into a failed grant is a good enough reason to spend tens of thousands of more taxpayer dollars. But nonetheless, I felt it was good to motion to table this discussion and open it to the public so many of you could voice your concerns and if there is support, express your support. The motion to table this for a public hearing was accepted. Councilwoman Kannapel suggested we raise private funds for the amphitheater, to which would alleviate my concerns of the taxpayers footing the bill, but the location of the project is a concern to me as it was a high concern for many of you. She had suggested possible involvement of groups such as the Lions or Rotary Club.
I agree with Councilwoman Kannapel as I always will advocate finding ways to privately and voluntarily donate funds over the use of taxpayer funds, most of which are obtained through property taxes, which I feel is a feudalistic tax where the people don’t technically own their own land.
The last grant discussed was the facade grant, which would not put the city on the line for any money, but local business owners.
Basically, this grant encourages building owners in our downtown area to improve the facade of their buildings. I personally own a building on the corner of 3rd and Main and I will not be participating in the grant as it puts a lien from the city on the building for 5 years, to be reduced at 20% per year. I know a few businesses that are going to take advantage of this program and I feel it is a good way for some people to get some of their federal tax money back and leaves the choice to individuals instead of the government. If you are interested in this grant, please contact me and I will put you in contact with the correct people.
We then moved into new business, where Mayor Smith gave us a deed for property on Water Street.
Citizens Bank purchased the property and sold it to the city to demo the house on the condition that nothing else could be put there.
The property is on a steep hill and with these restrictions, it’s an eye sore that the city government owns. I feel we have no business having this property and I’m open for suggestions on how we can get this off the city books. Why this was voted to be purchased by the city, since it has no designated for the city, is beyond me. It is next door to former Mayor Dennis’s house for a reference point. Please contact me if you have any ideas on what to do, but I do not advocate for the city to obtain property in this manner.
Next on the docket was the election of a council member to be on the Planning Commission. I threw my name in the hat and Councilman Petty nominated me for the position, to which I was elected to serve. I plan on focusing, as stated during my campaign, on improving the infrastructure in the downtown area and then moving the government out of the way so the free market can take over. I feel that the free market is the answer to downtown growth, not heavy, restrictive government regulations. I pledge I will do all in my power to make it easier for new businesses to come into Carthage and I sincerely appreciate the council’s support, as well as your support, in this new position.
Vice-Mayor Watts brought up an issue of an abandoned house underneath the Cordell Hull bridge, next to Carthage Full Gospel Church.
This house has been being used for quite a bit of dangerous drug activity and many hazards such as needles have been found in it, just within a few feet of a playground, which my children and other children play on. I motioned that we make an attempt to contact the owner of the property to find out what can be done to make this property safer, but as of now, there is nothing stopping an innocent child from wandering into this property and being hurt or killed. I respect private property rights and with private property comes responsibilities. I own several properties and I maintain it to safe standards. I feel we can work out a reasonable solution to show the owner that this property is a hazard and maybe find a private investor who can possibly purchase it or encourage the owner to clean it up themselves.
The meeting was then adjourned. I was able to speak with Mrs. Kupferer, the grant writer, and she explained to me a few ways to work with the PIARY Grant for our youth as well as another grant project called the “Save America’s Treasures Grant.”
Smith County and Carthage for that matter was founded by Captain William Walton of the United States Army. He opened the first Tavern and Ferry in the area and a project to help promote this history is detailed in the “Walton Road Corridor Management Plan”. I was given a copy of this plan and will investigate and share with you. If anyone else wants a copy, it is a pretty thick book, but I can may be able to get a PDF to send.
Last, I wanted to thank all of you for allowing me to serve you. I am here to serve and I am learning my position. I strive to make good decisions for the town and I am always open to constructive criticism. I definitely want your input, and not only that, your involvement. If you want to get involved in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. In all sincerity, it is an honor to serve the people of Carthage. While I am getting flack for sharing quite a bit of this information, I always try to source my material and give officials the opportunity to share their opinions. If any elected official wants to contribute their expertise or opinion, they are always welcome to reach out to me and offer a rebuttal. They are also always welcome to use their first amendment rights and give their viewpoints as well. As I have stated, I’m only reporting what I see and hear and I do give my opinion. I will make mistakes and I will learn from them. I am responsible for what I post here, but I will always try to be honest and fair. I will not be deterred on transparency though, I made that promise and I will continue to share as much information with you as is given to me. With that comes risk of not every bit of information being run by me, but I hope that will never be the case and I am happy we now have live streaming of our meetings so nothing gets missed by you. Thank you again and it is my pleasure serving you.