Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

TOP STORY >> New start for Cabot utility as '06 nears

IN SHORT: The city council approves just enough to meet its Jan. 1 takeover deadline.

BY JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The consensus of the Cabot City Council Tuesday night was that the devil was in the details of severing the water and sewer departments from the city and turning them over to a commission to run.

So to make it happen by Jan. 1 as the ordinance they passed earlier this year required, they left such details as rights-of-way and franchise fees to be worked out within the next 30 days.

The council met in special session with a full agenda of items relating to separating the city utilities from city control, but only passed the three necessary to make sure the commission would take over Jan. 1 — an ordinance cleaning up the language of Ordinance 32 which created the new commission, an ordinance setting the water and sewer rates the commission will charge, which are the same as the existing rates, and an agreement by which the commission will pay for the services of the city’s human services department to perform human resource functions for the commission’s employees.

Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh also assured the commission that control of the water and wastewater systems included control of the money.

Commission members knew going into the meeting that it might not be easy to get the entire package passed. Commissioner Bill Cypert learned earlier in the day that Alderman David Polantz would oppose turning the utilities over to the commission on Jan. 1 because he had not had time to look over the 200 pages of documents that would help make it happen. Polantz proposed postponing the transfer until Feb. 1.

But the commission had been working overtime for months to get ready for the transfer of control. To not take over would cause problems with accounting, billing and personnel records, Tad Bohannon, the commission’s attorney, said.

Bohannon told the commission during a 45-minute-long meeting before the council met that if the council took no action, the commission would still be in control of the utilities Jan. 1. But whether Com-munity Bank would turn over the accounts was an unknown.

So the commission went into the meeting prepared for Bohannon to argue their case. J.M. Park, commission chairman, said the crucial issues were “getting control of the purse strings and getting control of the personnel. If we get the purse strings and we get the personnel, we can operate,” he said, and the full commission agreed those things were what they would try to get.

But getting the council to hand them over took one and a half hours.

Stumbaugh said he appreciated all the work the commission had done to get ready for the takeover, but some of the details were problematic. If the council voted to pass them, he would veto them, he said.

Alderman Odis Waymack, who had pushed to put the commission in control, suggested passing only what was needed and Alderman Patrick Hutton listed the three that would be voted on.

Polantz voted no for all three as well as for the emergency clauses that made them take effect immediately instead of in 30 days. “This is an extremely complicated event,” he said early in the council discussion. “I’ve set here too long and I know that small words make a big difference … I don’t see where a month one way or the other will change the plan on this thing.”

Back in session for a brief meeting after the council vote, the commissioners congratulated Bohan-non for his work before the council and Bohannon in turn congratulated them: “Come Jan. 1, you have a water and wastewater system to run,” he said.