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Council to vote on new residential sewer rate Thursday

By BETH ALSTON
beth.alston@americustimesrecorder.com
www.americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — The Americus Mayor and City Council meet at 5 p.m. Thursday for the regular monthly session, having set their agenda last week.
The following items are on the consent agenda for Thursday.
• Approve writing down $85,058 in delinquent utility bills. Diadra Powell, City CFO, explained that efforts are being made to contact everyone on the list and they have recovered some of the money already.
• Approve request for the City to act as fiscal agent for the Americus-Sumter County Land Bank.
• Approve sending a participation letter to the Wells Fargo Community and Urban Stabilization Program so the land bank has the opportunity to acquire property which has been foreclosed on.
Other items on the agenda include the following.
• Consider a sewer rate ordinance amendment. City Manager Steve Kennedy again discussed the change in rates to be based on actual usage, versus an average. He said some will go up while others will go down, depending on how much water is used.
Council member Shirley Green Reese said she had heard from several of her constituents that they are against a change, which will result in an average increase of $5 per month, according to Kennedy. She asked why the city should put another half million dollars into the sewer fund “when we don’t need the money”? She said her constituents do not believe the new rate is fair because when they water their gardens, lawns and flowers, that water doesn’t go into the sewer system. She also expressed the opinion that it’s “not right to make a profit of our water or sewer funds,”  because the City requires citizens to have water and sewer services, which she called a “monopoly.”
Kennedy responded that the reason for having the sewer and water enterprise funds is “to help mitigate a property tax increase. The idea of giving water away free is not good, fiscal sense. … To have $400,000 to $500,000 out there … that represents 3.2 mills in taxes. It is part of my ethical duty to present information based on facts. You’re providing a service but not getting paid for it. Enterprise funds are to make money, but just to break even. The other alternative is to go up on property taxes. From an economic development standpoint, water rates are relative. Property taxes have a big impact on someone wanting to come in and build … here.”
Mayor Barry Blount commented that Georgia Power and Sumter Electric Membership Corp. have a monopoly, too.
“We need to consider the economic development impact,’ Blount said. “We’ve already committed  in next year’s budget to raise police officers’ salaries. That will add another $200,000 … we’ve got to pay for it somehow.”
Kennedy said, “the impact is not huge on those who don’t use a huge amount of water.”
Council member Lou Chase said, “As anything, we can bill ‘til the cows come in, but if we can’t collect, we’re not doing anything.”
Kennedy said he would follow up Thursday with more information.
• Accept the quarterly alcoholic beverage license compliance audit. During the agenda setting, CFO Powell told the mayor and council that all the businesses in the city selling alcohol are currently in compliance.
During his remarks, City Manager Kennedy updated the mayor and council on several items. He said that they had voted to support the One Sumter initiative “if funds were available.” He said because the City’ cash flow is good and it’s the end of the year, “we can move ahead with that $50,000 a year for four years.”
Council member Nelson Brown brought up a matter of concern. He said when he asked for a recording of a recent employee appeals hearing which he had missed, he was told by the City clerk that he would have to pay $5 and he didn’t feel that was fair since he’s trying to do his job.
Jimmy Skipper, City attorney, explained that state law regarding open meetings does not differentiate between the public and a council member, in order to be fair to everyone.
Brown said he had heard other council members refer to “reviewing the tape.”
Council members Chase and Carla Cook both said they had always had to pay for the tapes. The mayor told Brown that he could listen to the tapes in the Municipal Building without purchasing a copy.
At the end of the agenda setting meeting, the new body cameras for the police department were demonstrated, as well as evidence. com which stores all the videos collected with stringent safeguards against tampering.