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City council approves 'gradual' update to water department’s telemetry system

Johnson County/Mountain City economic coordinator Karla Prudhomme came before the city council at this month’s meeting to request permission for the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce to take over the annual Pumpkin Festival in October. Prudhomme explained that the Chamber had not officially voted to take on the festival yet, but were waiting to hear the city’s decision. If for some reason the Chamber voted against, Prudhomme assured the city that she, along with Sunflower Festival coordinator Barbara Coyne, would work on the Pumpkin Festival personally.
During the discussion of the festival, Prudhomme went on to say that she felt that moving the event to downtown, much in the way that the Sunflower Festival is operated, would do much more to help the city’s businesses. Alderman Bob Morrison made the motion to support Prudhomme with the stipulation that she keep the city informed as more information became available.
County Mayor Larry Potter also attended the meeting to present the council with information on a new Adventure Tourism Bill that has passed in the state legislature. Johnson County may soon be one of the first in the state to utilize the act. The legislation is designed to help rural areas of the state, especially where there are abundant natural resources such as lakes, steams, and mountains. At this point, Potter only asked the council to look over the information he presented to consider for future possibilities.
Alderman Morrison made a special presentation to the family of the late Frank Grayson, a lifetime resident of Mountain City who earned a well-known reputation as a master fiddler, and practitioner of old time music. Because as his notoriety not only in the region, but around the state and nation, Morrison proposed naming February 10, 2012 Frank Grayson Memorial Day. Following a unanimous approval from the rest of the council, Grayson’s family was presented with a copy of a resolution in his honor.
Morrison also went on to announce to the council that the city 911 board had voted to join with eight other upper east Tennessee districts to form a new legal organization which will be able to purchase new equipment capable of receiving various forms of communication including text messages, hearing impaired technology, and online sources.
The cost of the project is estimated to be $10,000, which was already accounted for in the budget. The 911 will join with other areas such as Washington, Sullivan, and Unicoi Counties and will be controlled from one of two new centers in Washington and Sullivan Counties. Morrison assured the council that the move would not create a delay in call time.
City Recorder Sheila Shaw brought up the topic of creating a new website for the city. Currently the town’s primary site is owned and operated by former Mayor Kevin Parsons, and Shaw noted that much of the information that was originally posted there has been taken down. The organization “Local Government” has done several city websites, and has done work for Mountain City in the past. Because they would take care of the maintenance, Shaw felt that hiring the company might be the city’s best bet. After discussing the issue it was decided that the council would look at other websites the company had done and make a decision at a later date.
Collection-Distribution Superintendent Jerry Horne informed the board that an eight inch compound meter that reads water consumption for Park Dale Mills appears to be going bad. In the last few months water usage for the plant dropped from four million gallons down to just 700,000. With no changes in the operation of the plant, the problem must be in the meter, costing the city the equivalent of $25,000 a month. Horne stated that he had looked into the meter and was prepared to install a repair kit, but there may be a need for more drastic repairs such as replacing the meter head. Realizing the serious nature of the problem the council acted quickly, giving the mayor and Horne the authority to do whatever is necessary to fix the meter.
Further problems with the water system came to the front as Water Plant Manager Andy Garland discussed upgrading the city’s telemetry system. Having installed cheap equipment that is now going on ten years of use, there is a growing problem in being able to keep track of the amounts of water in some of the city’s tanks, and even worse, being able to detect leaks to prevent a drained tank. Without the proper equipment, city employees have been forced to physically keep a check. After recent problems at the Pleasant Valley tank and pump station, Garland questioned whether the council wanted to simply continue repairing the older equipment, or possibly go to a new cellular system that would track and report back to the water plant automatically.
Garland went on to say that if the system was updated it would not have to be done all at once, but could be put in place slowly as repairs were needed. There is currently a study underway to ensure that the various locations would receive signal, but cellular would be much more reliable and efficient than the city’s current technology. Citing the importance of improving the city’s water system, Alderman Morrison made a motion to go ahead with the gradual upgrade, which passed unanimously.
A new animal control ordinance came before the board, concerning the issuance of citations. Animal control officers such as Mountain City’s Gary Phillips, under state law cannot currently issue citations. This means that a member of the city police must accompany Phillips for any legal action to be taken. After discussing the subject with city attorney Steve McEwen, it was found that it would be possible, with a new ordinance, to give Phillips the authority to issue city court summons. Following discussion of the topic, vice mayor Jerry Jordan made a successful motion to accept the first reading of the ordinance, which would be finalized after a public hearing and second reading at a later date.
While on the topic of animal control, members of the council also discussed the ongoing situation with the county. Although the city has provided all time, money, and effort in developing its animal control, it was recently discovered that the actual deed to the property is in both the city and the county’s name. At a commission meeting a couple of months ago the city requested that the county turn over their title to the deed. After meeting with several different opinions on the subject the county tabled the item and has not yet come to a final decision. Mayor Keeble reiterated to the council that the city has a strong need to get the deed solely in their name.
Keeble did also state that there was no intention to change the city’s current agreement with the county concerning animal control, but there was also no plan to go any farther. Alderman Morrison felt that the reason that the issue had not yet been resolved was due to misunderstanding from some of the county officials and encouraged Mayor Keeble to speak with the commission to possibly clear up any confusion.
The board also addressed the problem of synthetic drugs being sold in the city. Because there is legislation now going through the state general assembly that will ban the sale of the substances, many cities and counties have been confused as to what action they should take. The legislative process may still take months to complete so some have begun passing bans of their own, but have been met with limited success. Others have created statements of support for the state’s action in the hope of speeding the process.
With businesses selling the highly dangerous materials now located in the county, Mayor Keeble stressed the importance of the city taking some action. Following the advice of city attorney McEwen, the council made a decision to draft a resolution of support for the state legislation. Although this action would do little to prevent the presence of these substances currently, members of the board expressed their hope that it would at least help get the process started.
One of the last points of business for the night was to address a decision made by the city planning commission. Tim Glascow, owner of a local heating and air-conditioning business, requested that a portion of land adjacent to highway 67 be rezoned from medium density residential to B-3 arterial. The property, located across the road from Rite Aid Pharmacy, features a cabin that Glascow hopes to renovate for use as his office. Although the cabin sits on a one-acre tract, Glascow is buying a five acre lot and requested the whole purchase to be rezoned.
As a result, the planning commission felt that it would be unwise to allow the request, fearing possible future development on the lot. Although the commission denied Glascow, the final decision had to come from the city council. At the meeting Glascow asked if it would be possible to only rezone the one-acre lot with the cabin, as his only current plans were to use it as is office. Although many members of the council seemed to feel that this would not be problematic, the original decision of the planning commission involved the whole parcel.
Citing the desire to follow through with the planning commission’s decision, the council determined to deny the request as well. However, alderman Morrison did suggest that Glascow go back before the planning commission with the option of only rezoning the one acre lot, where he might be met with a different outcome.
With nothing further on the agenda, a motion to adjourn was made closing the meeting.