The Eutaw City Council met twice in March on the ninth and twenty-third to consider a similar agenda. The Council approved the latest version of a budget, prepared by Financial Consultant, Ralph Liverman, paid essential bills but did not approve other new purchases and initiatives pending a resolution of an outstanding problem with IRS. The Council approved the fifth version of a budget submitted by its special financial adviser, Ralph Liverman. The budget, which includes $3.5 million in projected revenues and $3.2 million in projected expenses was prepared using the best data available from past and current operations. The budget is divided into seven funds based on revenue streams. The budget includes: General Fund Administration, General Fund Police, General Fund Street and Sanitation, General Fund Debt Service, Water and Sewer Fund, 7-Cent Gas Tax Fund, 4-Cent Gas Tax Fund, Special Street Fund, and Capital Improvements Fund. “We have an approved budget for the city, which is a plan that can be amended and changed as we learn more about our finances and critical needs. We also have an accountant doing an audit for us for the past three years – 2018, 2019 and 2020, which helps us to know where we stand and allows us to apply for new grants,” said Mayor Latasha Johnson. The Council requested an update on the situation with IRS from Kathy Bir, the City Clerk. Ms. Bir did not have a report at first but went to get copies of correspondence from her office. She said that she had been overwhelmed with other work priorities like payroll and also had been sick. Mayor Johnson said, “We have been very lenient on this but we have been asking for this information on IRS for five months.”The problem with IRS has two parts. IRS filed a lien against the City for unpaid Employee taxes during the past administration of Mayor Raymond Steele. There also is a second problem with a report filed by Ms. Bir, which was incorrect because the wrong figures were placed on the wrong lines of a quarterly earnings report filed with IRS. This report and problem have been corrected by Ms. Bir but no confirmation of the correction has been received from IRS by the City. The City owes IRS for these problems that are accumulating interest and penalties as long as they are unresolved. The Council expressed concern that they cannot move forward with other new purchases, such as needed police cars and a GIS mapping of city utilities, until the issues with IRS are clarified and a payment plan developed for the outstanding amount owed to IRS. Mayor Johnson said, that with the help of Ralph Liverman, she had written a letter to IRS to get a clear statement of the amount owed and the reasons for the debt. “We have not received an answer to our letter yet, so we will need to keep following up because we need results and not excuses to resolve this problem,” said Mayor Johnson. The Council agreed to pay outstanding bills for routine business but tabled action on most new expenses. In the March 9th meeting, the Council approved payment of $8,950 to Layne Christensen Company and $24,000 for payment to Sheppard Services LLC for repairs and replacement of well pumps for the water system. In response to requests from City Engineer Babbs, the Council approved joining the 811 Alabama Location Center, to get advanced notice of new construction affecting underground utility lines. The cost of this membership is $520 per year. The Council tabled Babbs request for a GIS Mapping System ($40,000) of the streets and utility lines needed for future grant requests for maintenance and repair, until the IRS claims can be resolved. The Council also tabled requests for new police vehicles, a SCADA and Telemetry system for the City water system, purchase of tractors and street improvement equipment and approval of the Utility Operations Policy and Procedures Manual until the IRS issues are resolved. The Council did approve $5,000 for upgrading the computers, networking and telephone system at City Hall, which will provide answering services and other improvements to the system. It approved arrangements for on-line payment of utility bills using debit, credit cards and other forms of non-cash payment. The Council approved entering into an agreement with Community Services of West Alabama for the payment of utility bills to help low-income residents. The Council also approved a contract with Jordan Vending Services for the placement of vending machines for water and Gatorade at the Robert H. Young Community Center (old Carver Elementary School). They also approved a timeclock for employees that will be coordinated with the ADT payroll service to provide more accurate records of hours worked by the city’s staff. The Mayor asked Terry Tyson to report on his audit of the city water meters. Terry has visited 753 water meters, about half of the meters. He has found problems with meters installed incorrectly, meter id numbers not correctly matched to the billing system, and some meters not included in the billing system. He plans to visit all of the meters and correct the problems as part of his agreement with the City. The Mayor and City Council noted that storm shelters are needed for Branch Heights, National Guard Armory and Carver School and Community Center. The Mayor said that she was working out the details on locating and constructing these shelters.
At its regular meeting on February 23, 2021, the Eutaw City Council continued grappling with problems of the water system, street repairs and assembling a budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which began October 1, 2020.
The Council heard from Corey Martin, the full time Water System Operator, recently hired to help supervise and correct the physical and billing problems of the Eutaw city water system. Martin reported that for the four months, October 2020 to January 2021, the city was pumping 30 million gallons of water a month but only billing for thirty per cent of this amount. There was a 70% loss to leaks, incorrect billing, meters not working properly and not reporting properly to the computer billing system and pother problems.
Martin stated his job was to work together with Terry Tyson, an engineering consultant retained by the City to audit the water meters, and the Water Department staff to correct leaks, faulty water meters, missing water meters, water meters that are not properly tied into the computerized billing system. Martin said, “We have 1,400 water customers and we will visit every meter, correct the problems and should have the system working correctly in two to three months.”
Martin as a certified water operator will also be able to do monthly sampling for testing the city’s water for quality and environmental contamination required by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). This will avoid compliance issues that Eutaw has experienced recently. Water customers received a letter concerning compliance with testing requirements this past summer, which has now been corrected.
Attorney Ralph Liverman, financial consultant to the City Council presented members with his third draft budget for the City, which details projected revenues and expenses for six city funds including: The General Fund, Water and Sewer Fund, 7-Cent Gas Tax Fund, 4-Cent Gas Tax Fund, Special Street Fund, and a Capital Improvements Fund, which account for $3.5 million a year. The Council agreed to hold a Work Session on March 3rd to review and discuss this budget in more detail. It should be noted that Mayor Latasha Johnson made a campaign promise to develop a budget for the City, which did not have one for many years. Mayor Johnson reported on the Streetscape grant (TAPNU-TAI) for the City from the Alabama Department of Transportation. The grant provides $640,000 in Federal funds and $160,000 in local matching, plus local responsibility for engineering cost, for repairs to the sidewalks, railings, lighting and landscaping of the outside of the Thomas Gilmore Square surrounding the historic old Courthouse in downtown Eutaw. There is a separate project for repairing the inside sidewalk of the Square.
The City of Eutaw, Greene County Commission and the Greene County Industrial Development Authority agreed to share in providing the $240,000 in matching funds and engineering for this project. The project has been delayed by the State Historical Commission review which questioned if the project would conform to the city’s designation under the National Historic Register. The project engineer has resolved the issue with the Historical Commission and the project can go forward, however, the city will be required to update its registration with the National Historic Registry, which may cost an additional $20 to $30,000 to complete. The Council voted to approve the expenditure of funds to update the National Historic Registry.
The Council approved the rental agreements for the CFRD and Liberty Tax for rental of space in the Robert H. Young Community Center, formerly the Carver Middle School. The Council also approved re-opening the Fitness Center in the Robert H. Young Community Center for a $20 a month membership fee and compliance with COVID-19 health guidelines and an insurance liability waiver by persons wishing to use the athletic equipment. The equipment was donated by Auburn Extension Services in past years to improve the health and fitness of community residents. A staff person was recently employed to take care of the facility who will also help to monitor the Fitness Center.
Tammy Holley of West Alabama Works, a workforce development agency, made a presentation of some of the services her agency offers and requested a longer session with the council to fully explain the services of her agency. The Council agreed to her request at a future work session, to be scheduled.
In other business, the Eutaw City Council:
• Approved a resolution to provide the Mayor and Mayor Pro Temp access to all the city’s email accounts and passwords to handle business in the absence of city employees.
• Approved the solicitation of bids to resurface the City’s portion of the Lower Gainesville Road and Choctaw Road.
• Heard concerns from Council member Valerie Watkins for the installation of speed bumps on Roebuck Avenue to protect children in the area.
• Received a report from Mayor Johnson that the Police Department has set up a sub-station in King Village and is looking for female officers to augment its staff of 9 fulltime and 2 part-time officers overall.