Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

TOP STORY >> Cabot council is close to deal

Leader staff writer

The transfer of authority over Cabot’s water and sewer systems from the mayor and council to a new commission approved by voters more than a year ago is one major step closer to completion.

After months of talking about getting together for a roundtable discussion, the two groups finally did that Monday night with all members from both groups present. They dissected the is-sues that have kept the transfer from being completed – such as real estate, personal property contracts and a franchise – and suggested solutions that could be acted upon during an official council meeting. The consensus at the end of the two-hour meeting was that it had been productive.
“I think we’ve got some things resolved. I hope,” commission chairman J.M. Park said.

The most pressing issue was Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh’s veto of a document called an “assignment and assumption agreement,” which would have turned contracts made by the city over to the Water and Wastewater Commission. Those contracts were as inconsequential as uniform service and as weighty as the engineering contracts for major water and sewer projects and contracts to buy water.

Without the agreement, the other parties to the contracts would not necessarily recognize the commission’s authority.
“We probably need this one settled more than any one on the list,” Park said.

But tucked into the assignment and assumption agreement was a reference to deeds.

The mayor also vetoed legislation that would give the commission control of property owned by water and sewer and he said since he vetoed that he had no choice about vetoing the assignment and assumption agreement because of its reference to deeds.

If the commission would take that out, he would not veto it again, he said.

The agreement passed the council 8-0.

Six votes would override the veto, but Park said he would rather present it again without the language the mayor objected to instead of asking the council to override.

“I have absolutely no problem with y’all assuming those controls,” Stumbaugh said. “If y’all have the money, y’all should have the control (a reference to the commission already assuming control of the bank ac-counts for water and wastewater).”

The council was amenable to deeding the commission assets such as equipment, but only after a thorough inventory, which the mayor said could take most of the year.

The council further agreed to consider giving real property such as the water-well field and the old post office that now houses Cabot Public Works on a case-by-case basis.

Alderman David Polantz said those as-sets really don’t belong to the city because they were paid for with water revenue.
But elected council members not appointed commissioners should have control over them.

The franchise agreement the mayor vetoed could be back under a new name because some council members fear that a franchise fee might be added in the future.

“We won’t call it a franchise agreement,” said Tad Bohannon, counsel for the commission. “We’ll call it an agreement of operation and understanding… I’m not wedded to the term franchise. It’s just what you usually see.”

But regardless of the name, several members of the council want some provisions changed.

Alderman Jerry Ste-phens said he objected to the commission ex-tending sewer service outside city limits when some city residents have been waiting for the service for 30 years.

Aldermen David Po-lantz and Odis Way-mack agreed.
The city’s policy has always been that anyone who wants sewer must agree to be annexed.
Don Keesee, vice chairman of the commission, pointed out that such a policy would prevent the city from extending sewer service to a new elementary school proposed for Campground Road.

It can’t be annexed because it doesn’t abut the city limits.
But the council members stood their ground and the commission conceded to give final authority on that issue to the council.