Signal Mountain Puts Off Action On Water Issue, Budget, Filling Council Vacancy

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - by Gail Perry

The three main items on the agenda for Signal Mountain’s July council meeting Monday night all failed to move forward with a vote, stopped by objections from Councilman Dan Landrum, including a decision on the sale of the town’s water system. A first vote to send the options of keeping it, selling it to Walden’s Ridge Utility or to Tennessee American Water was postponed to allow an ad hoc group of citizens to gather information relating to the viability of Signal Mountain retaining ownership and management of the utility and to make a presentation at the August council meeting.

Around 20 citizens spoke including those who are on the ad hoc committee. Most were in opposition to selling the water system. They asked for more time before voting, and to allow for the group of citizens to make a presentation to the council. Many in the group, including Councilman Landrum, accused the council of not doing due diligence concerning retention of the system and rushing a vote without giving enough information to the public.

Addressing the accusations, Town Attorney Phil Noblett said the proposed sale of the water company had not been sprung on residents of the town. There have been at least four public hearings on the system since May, 2018. There was also a presentation on April 4 by Bill Lusk who helped write the RFP and one given by Town Manager Boyd Veal he said. At the beginning of the conversations about the sale, said Mr. Noblett, the town had asked for a study and recommendation from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), which had been denied. Discussions about the future of the Signal Mountain water system began three and a half years ago. And the RFP went out in December 2017.

Monday night, Mr. Landrum informed the council that he had contacted MTAS and asked for a study, which the organization now agreed to do. He asked the council to hear the ad hoc group he has been working with, at the next council meeting as opposed to having a separate public hearing for the presentation, as was approved at the June 29 agenda work session.

Because it is another contentious subject and the community is divided, Councilperson Amy Speek suggested accepting the offer of a study from MTAS. The original timeline was created so Vice Mayor Dick Gee could participate in the decision before leaving the council in mid-August because of his extensive knowledge and history with the water system issues. Mr. Gee agreed to pass on information to his successor and the council voted to postpone a decision and have the MTAS study done.

The council is required to send information about the three options to the planning commission, which will make a recommendation. The final decision will then require two votes from the council.

The choice of filling the two-month vacancy that will be left on the council when Mr. Gee can no longer serve was another conflicted decision. A process for choosing the temporary replacement had not been put in place, insisted Mr. Landrum. “He’s talking about a recall election when there was a two-year vacancy,” said Mr. Noblett, clarifying Mr. Landrum’s request for a process. 

At the April meeting the council discussed options for the replacement. The procedure that was agreed upon was for the council to make nominations and a majority vote would decide the replacement for the remainder of the term. Don Close and Annie Hall accepted the nominations, but Ms. Hall later withdrew. Monday night, Mr. Landrum requested waiting until when the vacancy began before selecting a replacement. “You need to have a plan in place before the last minute,” advised Mr. Noblett. "I do not recommend waiting," he said. The vote to accept Don Close did not receive approval with Mr. Gee abstaining. The proposal from Councilman Robert Spalding to accept four applications with a vote at the next regular meeting passed.

A vote on accepting the 2018-2019 budget also failed to pass. The proposed budget included spending three percent above projected revenue. Budgeting is not an exact science, said Mayor Howley. It is based on history and best guesses. He said in analyzing budgets from the last six years, that revenue was under  estimated an average of about 7 percent and expenses were over estimates an average of 8.6 percent, creating an average difference of 15 percent. Expenditures and revenues work together, he said. The past councils were budgeting for every possibility, he added.

City Manager Boyd Veal said that staff spends 12 months identifying savings and looking for grants to make the numbers as good as they can be for the town, which explains some of the differences. The mayor said that this council has been systematically working the way down to the 35 percent fund balance that Signal Mountain is required to have. This is so the citizens will not be overtaxed, he said. In the unlikely event that there is a three percent deficit at the end of the year, that is well under the average excess from prior budgets, said the mayor. At the insistence of Mr. Landrum that the budget needs to start out being balanced, the council agreed to revisit the 2018 budget. A continuation budget was passed that will allow the town to continue to operate on the budget from 2017.

This decision will result in the town’s staff going back and starting over in creating the new budget. It will also require another public meeting and two votes before it can go into effect.

In other business, the purchase of a hook-lift truck was approved for an amount not to exceed $181,030 and an automated leaf machine for $83,740. Authorization was also given to apply for the Tennessee Municipal League Safety Partners Grant that will be used to purchase safety equipment for town employees.



Khyree Thompson Denied New Trial For 2015 Motel Murder

Khyree Thompson, 23, appeared in Judge Don Poole’s courtroom Monday with a motion for a new trial. Thompson was sentenced to life in prison for the February 2015 murder of Reginald Ballard during a motel robbery. Attorney Donna Miller referenced close-up photos of the victim’s wounds shown during trial, the introduction of “allegations of the defendant’s gang involvement,” and ... (click for more)

State Route 68 To Be Closed In Rhea County On Wednesday And Thursday For Stabilization Project

TDOT personnel and contract crews are nearing completion of a stabilization project on State Route 68 near log mile 5 in Rhea County.   To expedite completion of the project, it will be necessary to completely close the road for a two-day period beginning on  Wednesday, at 5 a.m . The closure was originally scheduled to begin on Monday, but has been postponed ... (click for more)

Here We Go Again With The Same Cummings Highway, 12th Street Flooding - And Response

Here we go again with the same pitiful news reports about the Cummings Highway Interstate interchange with I-24 - Flooding yet again after a heavy rain.  TDOT is derelict in not having repaired this years ago.  How hard is it to get some excavators out there to dig up the collapsed drainage pipes which TDOT says are the cause of the flooding and replace them with ... (click for more)

Deal With The Graffiti Vandals

I travel to other neat old cities and don't see nearly the graffiti vandalism as in Chattanooga. Why do we allow one or two or three repeat vandals to mar our venerable Walnut Street Bridge, the pillars to the Holmberg Bridge, the remodeled Chief John Ross Market Street Bridge, the walls along our multi-million-dollar Riverwalk, our sidewalks, street signs and our old limestone ... (click for more)

Lee Set To Begin Construction on New Baseball Stadium

A new era will begin for the storied Lee University baseball program as construction began this month on a brand-new stadium for the Flames to call home with completion set for the upcoming spring 2019 season. The new venue, which will sit in the same location as Old Olympic Field, will be two levels and approximately 9,400 square feet. The stadium will feature chair back seating ... (click for more)

Local Tennis: The City Championships are July 19-22

The annual City Tennis Championships will be held July 19-22 at Manker Patten Tennis Club   Open Division:  The event will include the open division in men’s and women’s singles, doubles and mixed with prize money at $1000 for men’s and women’s singles winners and $500 for the runners-up and $250 for the semifinalists. NTRP Doubles Pla y: Doubles play ... (click for more)