Eutaw City Council recessed meeting for lack of quorum; Problems with water system continue

The Eutaw City Council meeting recessed on December 10 to December 17, 2019 was not held due to a lack of a quorum. Mayor Steele and Council members Joe Lee Powell and Bennie Abrams Jr. were present but members Latasha Johnson, LaJeffrey Carpenter and Sheila H. Smith were not present.
At press time, the Democrat received a call from City Clerk Kathy Bir advising that a special called meeting would be held on Thursday, December 19, 2019 to deal with three tabled items from the December 10 agenda. These were: contract with Greene County Foster and Adoptive Parents for use of space at Carver School; ordinance for a one time pay increase for all city employees and resolution of Lighting Agreement with Alabama DOT for Exit 40.
At the December 10, meeting before it was recessed, the Council approved action to set up a separate bank account for the TAPP Streetscape Grant; and to concur with an ALDOT request to re-route truck traffic, coming into Eutaw, to turn on Wilson Avenue, rather than the current route at the Episcopal Church off Mesopotamia Avenue (Alabama Highway 14).
Water problems persist
Originally, the December 10, 2019, Eutaw City Council agenda showed a meeting with the Alabama Rural Water Association was to be held at 2:00PM at City Hall on December 17, as part of the recessed meeting to discuss the status of the City’s water system.
The City’s water system has been plagued with problems since the construction of new lines, a water tower and installation of new self-reporting digital meters. Some city water customers have received no bills since the installation of new meters. Others have received a minimum bill, each month, suggesting that the digital meters are not operating properly or that the computer software connecting the meters to the billing process is not operating correctly.
Other customers have received bills that are so high that they cannot afford to pay them. Some water customers, especially in Branch Heights report “brown water” and other problems with the suitability of the water to drink.Representatives of the Alabama Rural Water Association have reviewed the City’s water system and they did meet, earlier on Tuesday, December 17th with the Mayor, Councilman Joe Lee Powell and some other residents of the city.
However, this meeting was not open to the press and Kathy Horn of the Alabama Rural Water Association declined to meet at the afternoon public session of the Eutaw City Council.
The Democrat has learned from sources that Ms. Horn, who is an expert and has extensive experience with rural and small town water systems said the “Eutaw Water System is in a state of emergency.”
Horn is reported to have said that the city water system can be salvaged and repaired to operate correctly and generate proper income for the City. She indicated that 294 meters are not operating properly and need to be adjusted. A new computer system is needed for the proper interface with the meters and the billing process. Some regular maintenance and flushing will be needed to clear the lines. Staff of the City water system can be trained to handle the problems on an-on-going basis once the immediate emergency situation is rectified.
The Alabama Rural Water Association is prepared to contract with the City to correct the immediate problems, including the defective meters; establish an accurate billing system that captures water usage; and trains local staff to handle administration, billing and maintenance of the system.
A new computer system costing $7 to 8,000 will be needed. The cost for the Association will depend on time and staffing needed for the repairs and adjustments to the system.
The Mayor and the City Council will need to come together to agree on solutions, not finger pointing and blame, said many observers of the situation. The improvements to the city water system are not on the agenda for the upcoming Thursday, December 19 meeting but may very well come up as pressing unfinished business.

USDA issues closing instructions on $3.1 million loan and grant package for Eutaw water system

Hattie Edwards

Mayor Hattie Edwards

 

At Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting, Mayor Hattie Edwards distributed copies of letters from USDA Rural Development transmitting closing instructions for the $2,219,000 loan and $788,000 grant package for improvement of the City of Eutaw water system.
“We have been working on this $3 million package for more than three years. We have met all of the conditions and the project which will replace the old water tower in Eutaw, replace and extend water mains, install electronic water meters, repair 52 non-working fire hydrants and other improvements, is now ready to be bid,” said Mayor Edwards.
The letters which came from Ronald Davis, State Director of USDA Rural Development and Theresa Long, Area Director in Tuscaloosa set August 18, 2016 as the date to open bids.
City Attorney Ken Aycock indicated he has been taking with the various parties including a bank that will provide interim construction financing for the project while under construction to make sure all requirements are in place. The engineer for the project is Burns Whittaker of Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, who designed the project.
City Engineer, Torris Babbs commented that the work would begin with replacement of the water tower as phase 1. The City of Eutaw has an existing grant from the State of Alabama – ADECA-CDBG funds to repair the water tower. A portion of this grant remains, after it was determined that the old water tank, built in 1921 was un-repairable, which will be used toward this total project.
Babbs also reported that work on the resurfacing of Prairie Avenue, between the Courthouse Square and Highway 43, is proceeding on schedule and that bids for this project will be opened on July 25 at City Hall. “There will be several projects going on in Eutaw starting in August and going through the fall of the year and longer,” said Babbs.
Babbs also pointed out that he had observed several building projects, like roof replacements, room additions and others, that persons had not secured building permits from the City, before doing the construction work. All construction work in the city, residential as well as commercial, requires a building permit according to Babbs, the Mayor and City Council. Councilwoman Shelia Smith suggested that the City put out more notification, in the newspapers and other places, of these requirements.
In the absence of the City Clerk, Deadre Thomas, who is out on medical leave, the City Council approved employment of Ms. Johnnie Knott, retired Circuit Clerk of Greene County, to be interim city clerk and absentee election manager for the upcoming city elections on August 23. The council also approved a list of city election officials to serve for the municipal elections.
The qualifying period for the city elections closes next week on July 19 and absentee ballots will be available soon thereafter.
In other business, the City Council:
• approved travel for Derick Coleman, Police Chief to a training meeting on August 1-5, 2016;
• paid bills and claims for the period May and June 2016;
• reviewed a request from Hodges Smith, to rearrange some property boundaries on four acres of land purchased for construction of the Greene County Fire Fighters Association offices and training facility on Prairie Avenue at J Street;
• approved providing security and assistance in collaboration with the Greene County Commission for the Black Belt Folk Roots Festival;
• heard from a number of citizens in the audience praising the work of city employees, especially police and first responders, for their dedicated work and service.