By James Cook, Times Editor
Water, the cost of it and the effects it can have on property, seemed to be the center point of the Stanton City Council meeting last Thursday night. The city discussed the new flood plain plans as well as the possible second increase in water rates this year for city customers. In one case there did not seem to be a good alternative, while in the other it may not come down to a choice.
The city had voted earlier this year to raise the water rates, which had not been done in over 10 years, to help pay for a loan. That loan was to assist with some water projects the city was looking at, but now that loan is not needed
However, in the meeting last week Stanton Mayor Dale Allen informed the board that the city’s primary water provider had raised their rate. “Beechfork (Water District) has raised the water rate 67 cents per 1,000 (gallons) and we will probably have to raise ours as well,” Allen said. The Beechfork move had been approved earlier and the council was made aware of the new rates over the past couple of months.
“Beechfork has been running at a loss for some time now,” Allen stated. “Hard times, I know its hard times, but we are not and Beechfork is not here to make money. None of the entities are out to make money, just break even.” Allen told the council that Stanton pays Beechfork between $30,000 and $35,000 a month for water. “That will probably go up to at least $42,000 per month,” he added.
Currently customers inside city limits pay a minimum of $14.92 per 2,000 gallons. That may have to be raised to offset the new Beechfork rate. “We need to do as little as possible right now after we raised the rates earlier,” council member Dixie Lockard noted.
“That’s the problem with giving away our water system,” James Martin, a member of the small crowd on hand, spoke out during the discussion. “They call all the shots.” Allen disagreed, “We own them, they only have three customers.” Allen went on to explain how each governmental entity in Powell County had members on the Beechfork Water District Board.
“How are people on a fixed income going to pay the bill? How are they going to do it,” Martin asked. “You need to find the reason why Beechfork is raising the rate,” another member of the crowd, James Roberts, told the council members. “Take a couple of months to check it out,” he added. The new rate is set to go into effect on Jan. 1.
“People can’t pay it if they don’t have it,” Afton Patton said. “We have to keep them solvent or not, but we need water,” Allen said. Roberts then added, “You may want to see a report as to why the rate increase is needed.” Allen tried to assure the crowd that the water district goes through audits and have had no problems. “That is what Lexington said about the airport board and what about the league of cities,” Roberts responded. “It doesn’t hurt to see a report.
Roberts continued, “How many of you council members know what the 67 cents is for?” There was no answer from ay council member. “If not, then how can you raise it,” Roberts asked. Council member Linville Bellamy asked that the subject be tabled until more information was available and fellow member Dustin Meadows asked if representatives from Beechfork could be present at the next meeting to explain. The topic was tabled until the December meeting.
As for the flood plain plan, Powell County Emergency Management Director Arthur Ashley was on hand to discuss the new federal guidelines. “We pretty much either have to pass the new plan that the federal government has been working on or we could lose any chance of receiving help if we have a natural catastrophe,” Ashley told the council.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been conducting surveys and plans to help communities develop a new flood plain map. Currently the plan used by Stanton and Powell Count was set up in 1985. “The copy of the ordinance from the state is so bad you can’t read it,” Ashley told the council. “The federal government is adopting new plans, new maps and we had a say so as to what property is included in the flood plain. In the past it was done by line of sight and that put most of the county inside the flood plain,” Ashley continued. “But now GIS and equations have been used and local input to develop a better map has been used.”
Allen agreed, “Right now the courthouse is in the flood plain and we’ve never had water in the courthouse. It won’t be on the new map.” Currently many local homeowners have to have flood insurance even though flood waters have never been reported at their location due to the old map. Under the new map, if a home is not in the plain, then the insurance would not be required. Those inside the flood plain would still have to have the insurance as most lenders require it.
According to Ashley, any county or city government that does not pass the federal ordinance may face some dire straits if a flood disaster were to take place. “According to the information they have given us, and this is the federal government not us locally, if we don’t adopt the ordinance we can be denied federal help later on during a disaster,” he said.
In a handout provided by Ashley if the city did not pass the ordinance flood insurance would no longer be made available within the community. No new flood insurance policies could be purchased and existing ones would not be renewed once the current term expires. No federal grants or loan would be available for buildings that may be in a special flood hazard area and no federal assistance can be provided for “the permanent repair or reconstruction of insurable buildings” even if there is a presidential disaster declaration. Small business loans to help repair damages would also cease.
Homeowners who have VA, FHA and Rural Economic and Community Development Serviced insurance or loans could lose that insurance. “They have told us that if we don’t pass it, then lenders could foreclose on the loans unless you can pay it off right then,” Ashley said. It is believed that includes conventional, private lenders as well as VA and FHA loans. The city could even be held liable for property damages. “If the council did not pass it and a flood hit, damaging say 30 homes, because they were denied the chance to get flood insurance because the ordinance was not passed, then the federals say that the city could be held liable for that damage,” he added. “The non-passage denied then a chance to get that insurance.”
The council decided to have a first reading of the ordinance in December and the second in January. At that time, upon the recommendation of the mayor, Ashley may also be hired as the city flood plain director. He holds that position for the county and his rate of pay would be determined if he is selected. The deadline to pass the ordinance is Feb. 17, 2010.
In other business:
• The city hired Ann Kell as the new Zoning Enforcement Officer. Kell will replace Ed Hash who retired at the end of September. She will work five hours a day, five days a week ;
• The city agreed to replace or put up street lights in areas that are very dark for a cost of $6 a month. Clark Energy will assist in replacing the lights, installing new ones or moving some existing lights that may no longer be moving. The new decorative street lights on Main Street should be ready by December.
• The first reading of the property tax rate. The rates will be .083 cents per $100 assessed value on real property and .760 cents per $100 on personal property. Those rates are the same as last years;
• The tourism commission gave the city their share of the first quarter of the 2009-2010 Fiscal Year restaurant tax money. Commission members Serena Bowen and Travis Wickline presented the city with a check for $25,164.73;
• The city also discussed options of how to enforce an ordinance dealing with election signs, even admitting that the ordinance has never been enforced before. The ordinance states that election signs cannot go up inside the city limits until 45 days before an election, yet some signs are already appearing. The council will look at the situation closer to determine how to proceed;
• Chuck Cecil was hired as a maintenance worker to help the city; and
• The council went into two different closed sessions, one dealing with possible litigation with Bobby Lowe, the other with Paul Pelfrey. No further details were available and no action was taken in the closed sessions.