The City of Whitesburg has taken steps to make certain that Whitesburg water customers with delinquent accounts will pay the outstanding amount or have their water service terminated.
At the February meeting of the Whitesburg City Council, Mayor James Wiley Craft said that notifications have been sent out to 15 delinquent account holders informing them that they could either pay the outstanding amount in full, come in to City Hall and sign a contract that specifies that they pay a set amount toward the principal of their delinquency each month plus their current bill, or they will be disconnected.
Craft also said that 19 more delinquent letters were sent out on the day of the meeting and that every delinquent account holder in the city will be notified that they will either settle their account or have water service terminated. He added that while terminations were being conducted, the city found one straight pipe (a pipe put in by a property owner to bypass a meter that had already been removed). He said he had ordered Police Chief Tyrone Fields to arrest that person, who will be charged with theft of services. Fields addressed the council on a different matter later in the meeting and said the same man had already spent 12 months in jail for the same offense and he will ask that he receive a stronger sentence this time.
Craft told the council that out of the first 15 letters that were sent, 10 account holders have either come in and paid their balance in full or signed contracts to repay the balance, and five termination orders have been issued. He said the action is to make certain that the city is in compliance with recommendations made in a recent state audit that pointed to delinquencies in water bills.
In a related matter, Mayor Craft, who is also an attorney, asked the council to approve a formal lease for the eight- by 12-foot space he uses to conduct his legal affairs in City Hall. He said a lease fee has been taken out of his paycheck since he started using the space, but that it was another matter that came up in the audit and he wants to make certain that the arrangement is formalized. He added that he has records of the withdrawals from his paychecks. The council voted unanimously to formalize the lease.
“I want to be in compliance with these recommendations,” said Craft.
In other business, Police Chief Fields, who also serves as the city Alcoholic Beverage Control officer, told the council that he wanted to clarify a state alcohol law that was recently addressed in the General Assembly. He said that the new law allows for Sunday sales of alcohol and it puts a recent amendment the council had approved to its alcoholic beverage ordinance in question.
Fields said that while the intent of recent changes to the ABC ordinance had been to allow for legal alcohol sales specifically on Super Bowl Sunday, the language in the amendment had not specified a date, but said “Special Sunday Sales.” He said that under the new state interpretation of the law, that could mean any Sunday. He added that some merchants have already begun selling alcohol on Sunday and have told him they are doing well. Fields added that if the council wants to stop regular Sunday sales, it will have to address the matter again.
Councilmembers Robin Bowen Watko and Earlene Cornett said they would object to expanding to regular Sunday sales and their intent had only been to allow sales on the day of the Super Bowl. Councilman Derek Barto said that while he has no objection to Sunday alcohol sales, he does feel that it should be up to the council, and Councilman Mike Jackson said the council should consider city business owners who can realize better sales by selling on Sunday. Jackson said that Whitesburg competes with cities for tourist dollars that allow Sunday alcohol sales and that should be kept in mind.
Mayor Craft asked Fields to meet with the City Attorney and ask that an amendment to the ordinance be drawn up to address the “loophole” that allows for regular Sunday sales. He said the council can then debate the matter and vote on it at its next meeting.
Mayor Craft also said he had asked Fields to look into the city’s telephone system. Craft said the current system has been in operation since 1993 and is no longer suitable for the city’s needs. He added that many of the features of the original system no longer work. Fields said he has looked as several systems and an AT&T model that costs $14,755.36 will provide phones in City Hall, the city police station, the dispatcher’s office, the swimming pool, and the water and sewer plants.
There will also be three additional phones, including one that will route all calls directly to Fields if the phone is not answered in a specified number of rings. Fields said he will answer the calls 24/7. One of the extra phones will go in the engine room at the fire station. Fields said the city can make regular monthly payments of $1,291.13 for a year until the total is satisfied. Maintenance fees will be $77 a month. The council voted unanimously to approve the purchase and Fields said the new system will be installed later this month.
The council also voted to change alcoholic beverage license fees in response to changes that have been addressed by the General Assembly. Chief Fields said that under a new state law, municipalities not be allowed to charge license fees for selling alcohol. He said that now, the city charges a fee, but reimburses the license holder in full, so in reality, the new law will not change anything. Under the new system no license fees will be assessed, but a $100 annual charge will be assessed for filing fees. The council voted to approve the action.
Water Maintenance Director Chris Caudill reported that the city has escaped major damage from the heavy rains but said it is having sewer problems. He said three separate pump failures will cost about $10,000 to address. He also said that a water line that runs under the Main Street bridge in Whitesburg is leaking and that while the leak is minor, he would like to fix it. Craft also said he has a request for a May Fair for May 12 from 3 until 9 p.m. Councilman Jackson asked that the council table the matter until next month so local business owners can be asked if they object to closing city streets on that date. The council also voted to authorize the purchase of a new Dodge Durango police cruiser for $30,000. The price is the state contract price and the vehicle will be paid for out of ABC funds.