Eutaw Mayor and Council reach agreement to pay bills; water issues remain unfinished

The Eutaw City Council met twice in the past two weeks on January 10 and January 14, to resolve differences, pay pressing bills and deal with problems with the City’s water system.
The City Council members and Mayor Steele were at an impasse at the Friday, January 10th special called meeting to find a way to pay critical outstanding bills before vendors, like Alabama Power Company, A.T. &T, water chemical companies, and other essential providers, cut off supplies and services.
Council members: Latasha Johnson, Sheila Smith, LaJeffrey Carpenter and Joe Lee Powell were concerned about authorizing the use of bingo funds to pay bills until they received assurance from Mayor Steele that the roads in King Village would be resurfaced; other policies passed by the Council, such as the “no acceptance of cash as payment for city services” were implemented; and the Water Department operations and billing were corrected.
Mayor Steele said the special street repair funds were for Branch Heights and that the streets in King Village “were not in as bad a shape as other streets in the City and did not need repair at this time.”
No agreement or consensus was reached and the January 10 meeting was adjourned without progress. The Mayor and the Council agreed to a work session on January 14 with technical support from Ralph Banks, President of Merchants and Farmers Bank and a former city council member, to try to work toward a compromise.
The January 14 meeting included a work session and a regular meeting. The Mayor and Council adopted a resolution indicating that up to $300,000 in bingo funds could be withdrawn from the dedicated account for street repairs to be transferred to the General Fund for the payment of pressing outstanding bills, provided that the City would proceed to advertise and take bids for resurfacing the streets and roads in King Village, to be paid for with gasoline tax fund accounts.
The City established a special street repair fund, with funds from bingo, provided through the Sheriff’s Department for street repairs in Branch Heights and King Village. The City then used gasoline tax funds to resurface the roads in Branch Heights, which is a permissible and legal use of gas tax funds.
The Mayor then received approval from the City Council to transfer funds from the special street repair fund to the General Fund to pay bills.
The resolution passed in the January 14th meeting made a similar budgetary adjustment to pay critical bills and still move forward with paving the roads in King Village. The Mayor and several council members indicated that they had discussed these steps with Sheriff Joe Benison and he was supportive.
The Council also asked about problems with operations and billing in the Water Department. The Mayor insisted that all problems with digital water meters had been resolved and that the billing problems were being corrected. There was a disagreement over the extent of revenue shortfall from the Water Department. The Mayor said the shortfall was in the range of $40,000 for the past year while council members set the shortfall at significantly higher – above $300,000 by their estimates.
The Council agreed to have a working session on February 18 with Kathy Horne from the Alabama Rural Water Association to discuss improvements to the water system.
Mayor Steele said he was “reluctant to turn the water system over to someone outside the city”. Council members pointed out that there suggestions and solutions were never implemented by the Mayor.
Many in the audience said they received the same water bills each month even though their usage was different at different times of the year. Ralph Banks pointed out that the garbage charge on the monthly water bills was $15 but that Waste Management was charging the city $17 a month for each garbage bin they were servicing. “The City should not continue to subsidize garbage collection for its residents,” said Banks.
In other actions, the City Council:
• tabled action to purchase new computers for the Water Department, until after the meeting with Kathy Horne in February;
• approved a contract for Alabama Power to store power poles at the parking lot of the National Guard Armory, for which it will receive $1,000 a month compensation.
• approved a Severe Weather Preparedness Sales Tax holiday for February 21-23, 2020.

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