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Park usage scheduling and water utility are top topics at city council

By Jonathan Pleasant
Tempers were running a little high on a couple of issues that came before the Mountain City Town Council at the monthly meeting last Tuesday night. The first issue involved a scheduling dispute between the Johnson County Little League, represented by President Alisha Shankel, and girls’ travel team Coach David Fritts. Hoping to use the Ralph Stout Park a couple times each week for practice, Fritts has apparently been unable to work out a designated time that doesn’t conflict with the extensive summer operations of the Little League.
As a result both parties came before the council to formally request permission for usage of the city’s facilities. However, from the onset City Mayor Lawrence Keeble made it very clear that the town would not arbitrate on the scheduling issues, hoping instead that both sides would be good neighbors and try to work out their problems on their own. Alderman Bob Morrison did note that the fields are intended for public use in general, leading him to make a motion to approve both requests. That said, Mayor Keeble did point out that the city does have a right to take away these privileges and withhold the use of the fields if the dispute escalated too far. There were no issues during the meeting itself, although it was quite obvious that emotions had been running high prior to the council’s decision.
The other major dispute came when several members of the Dry Run Utility Board, including President Tommy Poore, Commissioners Michael James and Ron Kalus, and District Manager Ron Murphy all came before the city to discuss in detail an ongoing problem that could potentially disrupt the utility’s water supply for a short time. Murphy took the podium as the group’s primary speaker, explaining that Mountain City supplies Dry Run as its major water source through a meter located near Roan Creek bridge across Watauga Lake on Highway 167.
Having switched the city’s entire system to new digital meters that can be automatically read, Mountain City’s water department also switched out the Dry Run meter in 2013. As Murphy explained the installation also saw a large rise in Dry Run’s usage, a problem that was eventually attributed to a compatibility problem between the new meter and the old meter pit. To fix the issue and have the meter read accurately, collection distribution superintendent Jerry Horne explained that the meter pit would need to be expanded to allow a straight run of pipe to be installed. This project would require extensive concrete work that could result in a shutdown of one to two days.
Hoping to avoid this break in service for Dry Run’s more than 230 customers, both Murphy and the other commissioners asked the city to consider putting back the older manual meter, which was tested and certified to be accurate. To provide readings comparisons, Dry Run actually went ahead and installed the old meter farther down the main line, and Murphy felt sure that the equipment was reading properly and very clearly pointed out the inaccuracy of the new meter.
Regardless, the council indicated that they had bought the new meters for a purpose and would insist on keeping the new digital capabilities without exception. Recognizing that the meter in place isn’t working properly, Horne explained that the city would do the work of making the necessary repairs. To mitigate the break in service, Horne went on to offer a compromise where he would hand a temporary one-inch line across the Roan Creek Bridge to provide at least a partial water supply while the work is being done.
The council agreed that this would be the best course of action to mitigate the problem, although there was discussion concerning providing adequate notice to the district’s customers. Alderman Morrison suggested using the county’s one call system in correlation with printed letters. These issues aside, Dry Run’s commissioners were also concerned about the over charges of the past year, which they figured had cost more than $14,000. The council agreed that the billing would need to be looked at, but only after the work on fixing the meter had been completed so that the appropriate adjustments could be determined.
Discussion once again became very heated with both utilities trying to look out for their best interest of their customers through their own differing perspectives. Dry Run ultimately conceded to the compromise and Horne agreed to do the work in as timely a manner as possible. Further, the new meter going in will be a far more accurate compound meter rather than the turbine type that is currently in place.
Other business included a special swearing in ceremony to renew the terms of several important city officials including city recorder Sheila Shaw, Police Chief Denver Church, City Attorney Steve McEwen, and Public Works Director Bob Eller. The ceremony came right on the heels of a lengthy workshop that ultimately tied up a few remaining loose ends to this year’s budget and allowed a first reading of the document during the regular meeting.
One key decision that was made that involved spending before the fiscal year is up involved new handicap access at the city pool. Requiring the installation of a mechanized lift to allow disabled individuals access to public pools, the federal government only recently passed the new ADA regulations but the city must come into compliance before the facilities can open. Officer Gary Phillips was on hand to present the council with a couple of options ranging up to around $5,500. Alderman Morrison indicated that there would likely be an additional $300 state license fee added into the process, leading to a motion for $6,000 to cover any potential extra costs. Taking action quickly, the council was hopeful that the new lift could be purchased and installed in time to open the pool on Memorial Day weekend.
Addressing the Johnson County/Mountain City Community Center, Alderman Jerry Jordan announced that television service had been restored thanks to the efforts of Donna Nelson who worked out an agreement with the provider. Jordan went on to thank all of the city’s employees, a sentiment that was shared by Alderman Morrison.
The last point of business for the evening was to approve engineering fees for recent modifications to the city’s ongoing Goose Creek Trail project. Opting several weeks ago to utilize TDOT’S existing right of way to build a trail connecting Ralph Stout Park with the Welcome Center, the council was forced to have new drawings created for the project. At several thousand dollars, city leaders are hopeful that this will be the last major change so that construction can remain on track for the 2015 season.