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Water and sewer issues dominate city council meeting

By Jonathan Pleasant
Water and sewer issues were the leading topic of discussion at last week’s city council meeting. The first item came forward with the public comments section as Karen and John Arnold, the new owners of Doe Mountain Inn in Doe Valley, made a formal request for some adjustments on their monthly water bills. Because of the commercial nature of the operation, the facility is served by a compound meter that automatically switches to high flow with a set amount of use.
Because of this more complex set up, the Arnolds have been essentially charged two separate bills coming to more than $80 each month. However, after sitting idle for several years, Karen Arnold explained that it would be some time before the couple has the inn up and running again, meaning that very little water will actually be used until the repairs and renovations are complete. The Arnolds currently own Serenity Therapeutic Massage and are trying to sell their other home in the county.
Karen’s official request to the board was to try to have their bill either held or reduced until their house has sold and they are in a stronger financial situation. Noting the extensive expenses that have been involved in trying to restore the Doe Mountain facility, especially in light of the proposed Doe Mountain Recreation Area, the Arnolds are hopeful that they can play a continuing role in the community.
Noting the special circumstances and acknowledging the lack of usage while the inn remains closed, several members of the council voiced their support in reducing the charge down to the residential rate until the business is up and running. Only Mayor Lawrence Keeble voiced concerns, explaining that he did not want to set a potentially troublesome precedent. However, after looking into the unique nature of the situation, the Arnolds received a positive answer to their request, which passed unanimously.
Collection-Distribution Superintendent Jerry Horne also made a request concerning the city’s water system, this time on Park Service Road. After explaining that he had recently been approached about installing a new tap, Horne went on to express his concerns about maintaining water pressure in this high elevation neighborhood. Indicating that pressure has steadily decreased with each new addition to the system, Horne provided the council with a recent test that showed only 30 PSI.
By law, the city must maintain at least 20 PSI, and the only viable way to increase the pressure would be to install a very costly pumping station. As a result Horne asked the council to advise him concerning the sale of taps along this road. Alderman Bob Morrison was first to suggest a hold be placed on new installation, essentially creating a moratorium. With numerous water projects ongoing, cost was the big factor, ultimately leading the rest of the council to agree that no new connections should be made in this area until better pressure can be secured in the future.
Horne also discussed an item of new business on the agenda concerning the installation of backflow preventers on city sewer taps. These relatively inexpensive devises prevent sewage from backing up into a business or residence that may be below elevation from the city’s sewer line. Already, many locations are installing the preventers, which typically cost less than $100.
However, because of the risk in certain situations, the council looked at the possibility of creating a new policy requiring customers to have the preventers in place. Alderman Morrison made the motion to create the policy, which will be drawn up by City Attorney Steve McEwen. The major concern is responsibility, leading city leaders to direct attention to the potential problem and let their citizens know that they do not provide this service.
Other new business included the first reading of two separate ordinances involving property maintenance issues. A public hearing was scheduled ahead of the reading, but because of advertising issues it will be postponed until next month, prior to the second and final reading. Basically the ordinances deal with increasing enforcement of property maintenance including the cleanup of vacant or overgrown lots. Currently the city has only limited authority in enforcing their maintenance ordinance, but with these new changes there will be much more teeth to the law, including a potential $50 daily fine for unresponsive offenses.
The board dealt with another ongoing problem as well, commenting about recent efforts to end vandalism and other problems in the city parks. City police chief Denver Church and Public Works Director Bob Eller were able to confirm that newly installed cameras have had a very strong impact on stopping and catching illegal activity in the past two weeks. Despite this positive news, Mayor Keeble reconfirmed his commitment to work with Church to do all that is possible to take care of the situation.

One area that has seen some improvement is in the amount of trash being picked up at the parks, which Eller explained has dropped tremendously, however there were still questions from Alderman Morrison as well as Alderman Jerry Jordan about the possibility of the placement of more trash cans, especially during special events. Eller felt that the current number is suitable, and although there had been comments about putting trashcans on the far side of Ralph Stout Park, access to this area would make regular collection difficult.
City recorder Sheila Shaw had several comments to make to the council, pointing out a growing problem with employee cell phone usage. Shaw explained that city cell phones, a primary means of communication, were supposed to be locked with access only to other employees. In some instances these blocks have been overridden allowing the employee to make private calls that have been charged to the city. Although there have only been a few such occurrences, Shaw was still concerned and asked the council to take preventative measures.
Recent overages have averaged approximately $35 each month with less than ten employees actually making the calls. Shaw’s suggestion, which she discussed with the city’s auditors, was to take these extra charges out of the employees pay. Public Works Director Bob Eller was concerned about one of his employees calling the local building supply on official business, but Shaw explained that she does have a list of all the calls made and only those that are non-work related would be taken out. Agreeing this would be a good method to correct the issue, the council voted unanimously to accept the recorder’s proposal.
Police Chief Denver Church brought two items to the board, the first dealing with an announcement that patrolman Jason Panganiban had submitted a letter of resignation. The council accepted the letter and advised Church to begin the hiring process. Applications will go out sometime in the next couple of weeks and a new patrolman should hopefully be chosen sometime in September.
Church also made a request concerning his department’s radio capabilities. Currently service is very poor on the eastern end of town going toward Shouns, despite having two repeaters. Following the fire department’s advice, Church was hopeful that a single repeater located at one of the city’s current mountain top sites would significantly improve radio reception. Citing the safety of the city’s officers, the council chose a committee made up of Alderman Jerry Jordan, Fireman Chris Pierce, and Chief Church to look into the cost of installing a new repeater.
There were few actual comments from the council members themselves, with the exception of Mayor Lawrence Keeble who brought up several points. The Mayor’s first announcement was that a ceremony would be held on August 29th at the Highway 67 bridge near Rite Aid. After working with State Representative Timothy Hill, the bridge will officially be named after Spc. Fred Greene who was killed nearly four years ago during the tragic Fort Hood event in Texas. The ceremony will be open to the public and Hill will be present as well.
Mayor Keeble also gave an update on the crosswalks near Mountain City Elementary. According to Bob Eller, the county school system will be working to place curbs, and the city has ordered new crosswalk signs, which have not yet arrived. The crosswalks will also be painted at the same time the signs are installed. 
Lastly, Keeble stated that he had been in contact with the current owner of the Ramsey building downtown, who questioned the future of the historic but deteriorating structure. When asked what the city would like to see happen to the lot, Keeble stated that from the city’s perspective the best course would be to have a business come into the building. Keeble also confirmed that the city is not interested in buying the building, nor in creating a park at the site if it is eventually torn down.