Powell, Spencer sworn in as magistrates

Mr. Joe Powell, assistant city clerk, and Ms. ShaKelvia Spencer, city clerk, were sworn on September  15, 2021 as municipal court magistrates. Having additional, sworn magistrates, will allow the court to operate more efficiently in case of sickness. Mr. Joe Powell and Ms. ShaKelvia Spencer were sworn in by Municipal Court Judge Josh Swords.

Eutaw City Council works on IRS and water problems

The Eutaw City Council met for its regular meeting on April 13, 2021 and continued to work on correcting problems with the water system, bad debts to IRS and other issues. The Council received a report from Terry Tyson who audited all of the water meters in the city system. He surveyed a total of 1,521 meters in the city on nine different routes. Together with Cory Martin, the City’s Certified Water Operator and other staff they found over 200 that needed corrections or adjustments. They found 6 inactive meters, 68 meters with the wrong address, size or attribution; 21 meters that were misidentified by number related to their account; 88 meters with a “0” reading; 10 old meters that need to be replaced; 18 meters serving duplicate residents; 10 meters needing boxes or lids; and 78 meters that could not be found. Tyson agreed to work with the staff to correct the meters that needed to be fixed and find those that had not been found in the first survey. Tyson assured the City Council that once corrections were made that would account for a significant portion of the water loss now reflected in the system between water pumped and water actually billed by the system. The Internal Revenue Service has a lien against the City for unpaid employee taxes, interest and penalties most of which date back to 2016-2020 before the current administration took office. There are some 941- Quarterly Employee Tax forms in 2020 and first quarter of 2021 which have not been filed properly or on time. There is a total payroll tax assessment of $226,077 from IRS of which more than half are penalties and interest. Mayor Latasha Johnson said she retained CPA Rob Pearson of Tuscaloosa to help update and maintain the payroll and tax records. She also said that she dismissed Kathy Bir, City Clerk because she did not inform the Mayor or Council about the problems with filing the employees tax records and correcting past problems. The Council approved the hiring of Rob Pearson to handle the payroll records and the dismissal of the City Clerk. Mayor Johnson says, “correcting the problems with IRS reporting and payment of taxes, penalties and interest is now her highest priority. We are seeking a meeting with IRS to discuss abating the penalties and interest since these mistakes were made by prior city administrations and the current administration is willing to pay or make payment arrangements for funds owed to IRS, after discussion of abatement.”

In other actions, the Eutaw City Council: • Approved $40,000 for GIS mapping of the city’s underground utilities systems like water, sewer, gas. • Agreed to hold a work session on May 4 to include a workshop on workforce development by Ms. Tammie Holley of AlabamaWorks. • Authorized the Mayor to purchase two new police vehicles. • Approved a Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday. • Approved the City’s mask ordinance until at least its first regular meeting on May 11, 2021. • Approved recommendations of the Zoning Board for variance for two day care centers in Branch Heights. • Approved the city’s portion of the County Hazardous Mitigation Plan. • Approved payment of a $5,094 civic forfeiture claim ordering repayment of funds seized in a police arrest. The funds were not placed in a bank account and cannot be located. The current Chief of Police has initiated an investigation with assistance from the District Attorney into the missing funds. •Approved payment of bills and claims against the city.

Eutaw City Council reinstates City Clerk; takes no clear action to resolve water problems

By John Zippert,
Co-Publisher
At its regular meeting on Tuesday, February 25, 2020, the Eutaw City Council voted to reinstate City Clerk, Kathy Bir, to her position. Mayor Steele had dismissed her earlier in the week. The vote was 4-1-1 with the Mayor voting no and all other Council members voting yes, except Joe Lee Powell who abstained.
This action is part of a long running dispute between the Mayor and City Council over who is responsible for making decisions to operate the city. Mayor Raymond Steele asserts that he has “day-to-day” decision-making authority over city operations.
The Council asserts that they have fiscal responsibility and control over the affairs of the city. The Council has removed the Mayor as a check signer on most city bank accounts as a way of controlling his actions and determining which bills get paid. This conflict between the Mayor and Council makes it difficult for the city to make major decisions and move ahead to resolve problems.
This disagreement resurfaced around the issue of contracting with Water Management Services (WMS), headed by Kathy Horne and the Alabama Rural Water Association (ARWA) to correct problems in the operation and finances of the City of Eutaw Water System. At a February 18, Eutaw City Council Work Session, Rob White, Executive Director of ARWA and Kathy Horne of WMS presented a devastating report on the status of the City of Eutaw Water System.
They reviewed data on the Eutaw Water System for the period October 2018 to August 2019 and found:
• A water loss for the system of over 50% for each of these months, which compared water pumped at city wells with water billed by the system, 15% loss is considered ideal.
• A significant number of the new digital water meters are installed incorrectly; for others the meter number does not match up with the computerized billing system; in other cases there is a disconnect in the billing software for some of the meters.
• A monthly discrepancy between the total residential water customers (1353) and the average number billed (850) for water.
• A monthly loss of revenue for the system of more than $85,000 a month.
Council members who have been concerned for some time about the problems of the water system requested that the city attorney prepare documents to contract with Water Management Services to correct the problems. At Tuesday’s meeting, when this item came up for discussion, Zane Willingham, City Attorney, advised that since the water service contract would cost over $50,000, it would need to be competitively bid by the city and could not be awarded to Kathy Horne’s group (WMS) without a bidding process.
Mayor Raymond Steele pointed out that he was named Superintendent of the Water System, at the start of his term as Mayor and that “you cannot take away my authority to manage the water system on a day-to-day basis by bringing in a consultant to take over operation of the system.”
The City Council instructed Zane Willingham, City Attorney to draw up the necessary papers for their next regular meeting to bid out the management of the water system. Mayor Steele continued to assert that he was in charge of the water system and would meet with Kathy Horne and others to determine what management and technical assistance is needed to operate the system.
Speaking from the audience, Danny Cooper, Chair of the Industrial Board implored the Mayor and Council, “As a lifelong resident of Eutaw, I am distressed that you cannot get together to address the obvious and serious condition of the water system. We are losing revenues every month that we need to run the city. I receive the same minimum bill every month for water, which means the water system is not functioning properly. You need to come together to address this crisis.”
People at the meeting, including this reporter, left the meeting without a clear idea of what the next steps will be to resolve the City of Eutaw Water System problems.
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• approved a liquor license for J&S Bartenders for a Delta Sigma Theta Sorority event on March13, 2020;
• approved a contract for Greene County Foster Parents to rent space, for $100 month, in the Robert Young Community Center;
• approved a contract from Jasper Means Construction for $25,000 to repair the street crossing at Sears Drive;
• approved purchase of equipment from the State of Alabama Surplus Property Agency consisting of a street sweeper ($15,000), lawnmower ($4,000) and trailer ($1,500);
• approved installation of surveillance cameras in Branch Heights, King Village and Carver Circle to reduce crime; and
• did not approve an ordinance to raise the salary of city council members, beginning with the next elected city council.

Eutaw City Council holds special meeting to approve transfer of bingo funds to meet immediate bills

Chief Derick Coleman with new police officer Derrick Carter

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

The Eutaw City Council held a special called meeting on Monday night, July 15, 2019, to approve transferring $70,000 of bingo funds in a Capital Improvement Fund to meet immediate outstanding bills critical to keep the city operating.
This decision came against a backdrop of long-standing arguments over city finances between Mayor Steele and councilmembers. Council members: LaJeffrey Carpenter, Latasha Johnson and Sheila Smith have requested a budget, a meaningful plan for using city funds to cover routine and extraordinary city expenses. Councilman Joe Lee Powell sometimes joins this group especially when needed expenditures concern his district. Councilman Benny Abrams has generally voted with the Mayor.
About three months ago, the City Council in an unprecedented action removed Mayor Steele as a signatory on most city accounts and left the payment of bills to Councilmen Carpenter and Powell. These council members, aided by City Clerk, Kathy Bir have prioritized and paid the bills as best they could. The City has a list of accounts payable between $200,000 and $300,000, which were presented to the Council in the past few meetings.Councilwoman Sheila Smith points out that there are problems in the City Water Department with billing. The City sends out bills for a combination of water, sewer and garbage services. The amount of revenue coming in is not sufficient to pay the expenses for these services. Some people have received minimum water bills for months even though they know that they are using substantial amounts of water.
There seems to be a disconnect in the computer softwear used to read the new digital water meters and the printing of bills. The City has called the Alabama Rural Water Association to help diagnose and solve these water billing problems but progress in resolving the issues is slow. The Mayor insists that all problems with the new digital, self-reading meters have been resolved but the continuing dilemma of low revenues from the water, sewer and garbage fees suggests that problems remain.
Mayor Steele called Monday’s special meeting to transfer funds from the City Capital Improvement Account and from the
Special Fund for repair roads in Branch Heights to pay the current backlog of bills. Mayor Steele insisted, “ We are endangering the lives of city residents by not paying these bills. Our wifi communications have been turned off for non-payment of bills, which means our police cannot write tickets and check driver’s identities. We are not able to put chlorine in the water and people may die. We are not doing things required by state statutes.”
The Mayor asked to transfer funds from the current Capital Improvement Account, which has a balance of $70,312 and the Special Fund for Branch Heights Roads, which has a balance of $577,000 to pay outstanding bills.
A motion was made to transfer funds in the Capital Improvement Account and put the bingo funds flowing in to this account for the next six months into the General Fund to pay bills. The Council also wants to have a discussion with the Sheriff about using funds from the Special Funds for Branch Heights Roads for paying bills. The Mayor used half a million dollars in the 7 cent Highway Fund to pay for resurfacing the Branch Heights Roads, so he feels that Sheriff Benison should release funds in the Special Account for the city to pay its bills.
As soon as the motion was passed, the Mayor adjourned the meeting. This reporter had to jump up and ask that the figures be clarified so that the public would know how their monies were being spent. No figures on the funds to be transferred were used in the discussion or motion. You are seeing figures in this story that the newspaper had to beg for and pry out of the Mayor and city officials.
$70,000 of Capital Improvement funds will be transferred immediately to pay pressing bills. This fund receives $4,500 each month in bingo funds from Greenetrack, Rivers Edge and Frontier bingos, which totals $13,500. Prior to the closing of Greene Charity, there was another $4,500 a month flowing into this account. $13,500 for the month of June is still pending and expected for this account that may be used to pay bills.
Another $27,000 a month of bingo funds from the Palace is paid into the Special Fund set up by the Sheriff for Branch Heights Roads. Some councilmembers argue that these funds are needed for roadwork in King Village and other multi-family housing complexes.
In the July 9, 2019, regular City Council meeting, the Council:
• Approved ordinances to allow for Sunday liquor sales and clarifying the sale of wine in Eutaw; the ordinances will go into affect after they are published one time in the newspaper;
• Approved travel for the City Clerk and administrative assistant for training;
• Authorized the Mayor to pursue FEMA funding for repair of culverts throughout the city that have been damaged by recent heavy rains. 75% of these repairs are paid by FEMA, 12.5% by the State of Alabama and 12.5% are a local matching contribution.
Police Chief Derick Coleman introduced a new part time police officer, Derrick Carter. The Chief indicated that this hire would bring the force to seven full time and three part time officers.

Eutaw Mayor and City Council in disagreement on major issues

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

At Tuesday night’s meeting on March 26, 2019, Mayor Raymond Steele and the Eutaw City Council remain divided over major issues.
In response to the written agenda passed out for the meeting, Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter asked to place two additional items on the agenda, including a request for an Executive Session on a personnel issue and a follow-up to the council’s resolution on check signing.
Mayor Steele was visibly distressed and said that council members should bring their agenda suggestions to him before the meeting so that they can be reviewed and the staff can prepare a response and provide information that is needed. The Council added these items to the agenda over the Mayor’s objections.
After a short eight minute Executive Session, the Council reconvened and asked the Mayor if he had implemented a resolution they passed at the January 22, 2019 meeting, which removed the Mayor as the signatory on most city bank accounts and made Councilmembers Joe Lee Powell and LaJeffrey Carpenter along with City Clerk, Kathy Bir as the designated signatories on these accounts.
Mayor Steele said he had not implemented the change because he had not been given reasons for changing the signatories. “ I am in charge of the day to day business of the City, it is critical that the Mayor be able to sign checks. I do not have any problem with adding other signatories to the accounts. You will not tell me why you don’t want me to sign –
This is not right.”
Councilwoman Latasha Johnson asked City Attorney, Zane Willingham, to prepare written instructions for the City Council as to “what to do when the Mayor does not implement policies and actions decided and approved by the Council.” The Council in a resolution approved these instructions.
Councilwoman Latasha Johnson also indicated that the Mayor had not implemented the policy, also adopted in the January 22, 2019 meeting, that cash would not be accepted to pay water bills and other obligations to the City. Johnson said,
“Cash is still being accepted, no signs have been posted as we requested. The Mayor has decided on his own not to implement this policy on taking cash approved by the City Council.”
Councilwoman Sheila Smith questioned the Mayor about problems with the water bills. “Too many residents are paying the minimum water bill of $38.58 for residences and $58.38 for businesses. The water meters or the water meter reading system is not working properly and we are loosing money we need to pay for the water system and operate the city.”
Mayor Steele said that all of the new meters have been checked and are working properly. He said that he would review this problem again and try to find a solution.

The Council was given a detailed report on bills to be paid for the month of March. Several Councilmembers objected that they we given the information about the bills late and did not have time to study the expenditures. Payment of the bills was tabled until the next meeting to give the Council members time to review.
LaJeffrey Carpenter asked Mayor Steele why he had only re-paved the roads in Branch Heights, while the roads in King Village, Carver Circle and other parts city also needed similar repairs. The mayor in exasperation answered, “ You know we agreed to the roads in Branch Heights as a special project. We do not have enough money at this time to do all of the roads or make all of the repairs that the Council is requesting.”

The Mayor indicated that he was trying to get some disaster relief funds allocated to the City of Eutaw for street repairs since the recent rains had eroded some of the streets.

Mayor Steele said he was still working on an audit which was necessary to secure funding for new police cars and construction equipment from USDA Rural Development.
“The equipment we have is worn out and more than ten years old. We have no new tax base and limited funds to pay for needed improvements to the City. When we start earning new taxes from the Love’s Truck Stop, then we may be able to afford the repairs and improvements needed by the City,” said Mayor Steele.
Councilmembers responded that this was why they were asking for a budget and audit so they could understand and project the City’s finances to pay current obligations and plan for future expenditures.
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council approved a retail beer and wine license for Love’s truck Stop and publication for four week’s of the City’s request for Sunday alcohol sales, which will generate some additional revenues.