Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

TOP STORY >> Utility’s control still not finalized

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

A special council meeting in Cabot on Tuesday night, called to tie up the lose ends of transferring the operation of the water and sewer departments from city control to a new commission, ended with some issues unresolved and one ordinance likely to be vetoed by the mayor.
The council passed an ordinance granting the commission a franchise to operate in the city like those held by the gas and cable companies, much to the ire of Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh.

“You’ll get to re-address this, I grant you,” Stumbaugh told the commission after the franchise ordinance passed 5-3.

Asked after the meeting if he meant by his statement that he intended to veto the franchise, Stumbaugh said, “chances are very likely.”
At the heart of that issue is money. The commission has agreed to pay the city $200,000 this year as a fee for fire and police protection, about the same amount the city collected for two years before the commission took over. But since the promise does not extend to next year and beyond, Stumbaugh says the only way for the city to regain that revenue if it is lost is to actually set a franchise fee for the new commission that would be passed along to the rate payers.

When the commission pays the $200,000 also appears to be critical. The mayor wants it now, because cash flow is a problem in January, according to Alderman David Polantz, the chairman of the council’s budget committee.

Bill Cypert, secretary of the water and wastewater commission, told the commissioners during a 45-minute strategy meeting before the council meeting, that Stum-baugh had accused the commission of holding the city hostage over the fee, an accusation that the commission denies.
Cypert said during that meeting, and the council meeting that followed, the commission was reluctant to release the full amount because they don’t yet know the full financial picture of water and sewer.

The mayor had already alluded to a veto of the franchise by the time the discussion of the $200,000 fee began.

When he asked the commission if they could at least pay one-quarter of that amount within a few days, J.M. Park, the president of the commission who had been silent during the meeting, responded, “We’ll take it under advisement.”

The council would not give the commission authority to pay its own bills for construction of a $19 million sewer project which in-cludes a new plant.

City Clerk Marva Verkler said the city would be audited for the money, not the commission.

The council agreed to give the commission along with the mayor and city clerk authority over the funds.
Some agenda items were tabled until the February meeting.