Eutaw City Council approves budget but tables most other items until IRS lien can be resolved

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.

Eutaw City Council appoints boards, reviews water system and handles contracts

Greene County EMS staff demonstrate the Life-Pak/Defibrillator equipment to save lives, purchased by the City of Eutaw with CARES funds

The Eutaw City Council held its regular meeting on February 9, 2021. Mayor LaTasha Johnson and all Council members were present.
The Council reviewed technical assistance proposals from Water Management Services and EOS. The Council by a vote of 3 to 2 accepted the proposal from Terry Tyson, who works with EOS, to audit, review and repair the water meters. He will also help to make sure that the digital meters are communicating properly with the city’s billing computer software to help resolve some of the billing problems.
The Council also approved the Mayor’s recommendation to employ Corey Martin as the on-site water operator for the city, which will help to get the system functioning more efficiently.
The Council also approved March 3 as the final date for residents to negotiate a billing arrangement on paying their past due water bills before action is taken to cut off water. Residents can get an adjustment in their bills, down to 20% of the balance owed, to be paid over five months along with current billThe Council appointed the following members to the City Industrial Board: Mollie Rowe, Tommy Lee Armour, Theresa Carpenter, James Dee Powell, Hattie Edwards, Chris Beeker, Anita Lewis, Ralph Liverman, and Danny Cooper. The Council also appointed the Airport Board consisting of Joe Lee Powell, Danny Cooper, John Darden, Colin McRaye, James Carter, Reginald Cheatem and Billy Mingles.
The Council discussed rental fees for rooms at the Robert Young Community Center (old Carver Elementary School) and decided to charge $375 per room, per month, starting March 1st.
The Council made no differentiation between business and non-profit users, which may come back up for discussion.
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• Approved contract with Waste Management Services for collection of garbage.
• Approved purchase for $12,000 of a new radio communications system for the Police Department, from Collins Communications.
• Agreed to purchase three new rotators for the city’s sewage lagoons; one large one for the City lagoon and two smaller ones for the lagoons at the rest areas on the two sides of Interstate 20/59. The cost of the rotators was $12,000 for the larger one and $6,000 each for the smaller ones.
• Heard a report from Mr. Babb, City Engineer on steps to get maps of the city water and sewage system to develop a maintenance and repair plan.
• Discussed getting speed bumps for Roebuck Street.
• Urged Parks and Recreation Committee to meet to make recommendations for improvements.
• Referred insurance claims to the company for review and payment.
• Viewed a demonstration of the Life-Pak equipment purchased by the City for the Greene County EMS with CARES funds.

Eutaw City Council appoints zoning board, discusses ways to enforce ‘mask mandate’ for greater safety of Eutaw residents

The Eutaw City Council met for its regular meeting on January 12, 2021 at City Hall since there was no heat in the Carver gymnasium, where the Council had been meeting to assure greater social distance between the Council and city residents attending the meetings. The Council members were separated by plastic partitions and about twenty people were allowed to sit six feet apart in the Council chamber.
Mayor Latasha Johnson distributed a list of standing committees and boards to the Council and asked them to help in naming people to these boards and committees. Johnson indicated that the terms of current members had ended and in some cases there were vacancies because the past appointees had died, moved away or were unable to serve for health reasons.
Johnson said it was critical to name the Zoning Board since several businesses had requested re-zoning or zoning variances over the past six months and these requests had not been acted upon because the Zoning Board had not been able to meet. The Council named the following persons to the Zoning Board: John Zippert, Shirley Ann Edwards, Shermaine Stewart, Cynthia Cooper and Corey Cockrell and urged them to meet soon to act on the outstanding issues.
The Council also discussed safety for City Hall in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. Councilwoman Tracey Hunter raised the question of how well the City is enforcing the ‘mask mandate’ for local retail businesses.
“Some are enforcing the mask requirement and some are not,” she said. She recommended that the police visit the businesses in town and urge them to make sure people are wearing masks in businesses.
Mayor Johnson said,” We have a mask mandate and fines for not wearing masks in public and maintaining safe social distance. So, we will ask our police department to visit with businesses and ask them to enforce mask wearing to help protect all of our citizens.”
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• Approved a liquor license for Sleepy’s Bar and Grill in West End.
• Heard a report from Mayor Johnson that an audit of the city’s finances for fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020, are still in progress by Rick Harmon, CPA of Tuscaloosa.
• Heard a report from Ralph Liverman, financial consultant, who is preparing a budget for the City’s current fiscal year. He said that he had a preliminary budget with six separate funds: General Fund, 3 Cent Gas Tax, 7 Cent Gas Tax, Streets, Water and Sewer and Capital Improvements, that he was working to refine. Liverman indicated that the City’s finances were in better shape than he expected. He said the City had three major debts, for purchase of Carver School, an IRS lien for past unpaid employee taxes and a loan for the City’s matching finds for expanding the sewer line to serve the Love’s Truckstop, which need to be repaired.
• Heard a report from City Engineer Babb on revising the building permit regulations. He said these updated regulations will be available by March.
• Heard a report from the Mayor that the City is inventorying all water meters to make sure they are all working properly and can interact with the city’s billing computer software to insure accurate billing. The Mayor also announced a Council work session on January 19, to meet with Kathie Horne on her agreement to serve the City in correcting and improving the water system.
• Heard a report from the Mayor on her efforts to work with the County Commission and Industrial Development Authority on steps to improve the Exit 40 area on Highway 20/59 including better lighting and attracting other retail business and motels to the intersection. The three entities have pledged to work together on this and other common issues.
• Discussed leasing of offices and space at the Carver School. The CRFD bingo operation and Liberty Tax, a business, have requested space in the school, which now serves as a community center. The Council needs to set a common policy on the leasing of space in the center to help with maintenance and improvement of the space.
In the Council and public comments section of the meeting. Several Council members requested more information on the budget and the committees and boards that they need to appoint. The Mayor said the coming work session on January 19 would help provide more information to Council members.

Eutaw City Council makes progress in handling city’s business

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

The Eutaw City Council met for its regular meeting on December 22, 2020, after cancelling its November 24 and December 8 meetings due to coronavirus affecting city employees. The full membership of the Council was present for a 2.5 hour meeting to handle city business.

Mayor Latasha Johnson reported on efforts to correct problems in the Water Department, which have plagued the City for the past two years. “We have sent out 1,398 water bills for the month of December, which covers all customers. With the help of the Alabama Rural Water Association, we have been reviewing problems with water meters and correcting problems,” said the Mayor.

“We have also worked with the digital meter softwear company to correct billing problems so we can send customers an accurate bill. The past administration said this company would not come to service the computer system for water bills but we called them and they came immediately to help correct problems. We still have the problem of adjusting the extreme bills that some customers received in the past year,” said Johnson.
The City Council discussed dealing with the extreme bills, where some customers received $400 to $600 a month water bills and fell behind in payments. “We want people to take responsibility for paying some part of these bills, because they received water, sewer and garbage services included on bills, make a payment plan and continue paying current bills,” said the Mayor.
Councilwoman Tracey Hunter, who received and paid past extreme bills, made a motion, that customers with extreme bills and large balances, be able to make an adjustment to pay off down to 20% of their balance, over 150 days, provided they also pay their current bill. This motion was passed by the Council and provides a way to systematically and fairly deal with past due bills. “This gives us a process to negotiate with residents to pay back bills. We will lose some money but we will be able to resolve these problems and go forward in a positive way,” said Mayor Johnson.
The Council also passed a motion to allow the Mayor to cancel the contract with Kathie Horne of Water Management Associates, since she has not been able to come to Eutaw to implement the agreement. The City has received help to correct the problem in its water system and billing from other sources.
The Council approved renewal of its contract with Waste Management for garbage collection with some adjustments. The representative of WM present at the meeting said he would provide replacement cans and additional cans for those who needed them. He asked that people place additional garbage, that did not fit in the cans, in bags and place on top of cans. He said the company was moving toward automation, where cans would be picked up and dumped into its trucks automatically. This will mean that garbage placed at the side of cans will not be easily picked up. The Council urged him to pick up all the garbage placed alongside the cans until automation of collection occurs.
The Council renewed its agreement with AVENU to collect sales tax, gas tax and business license fees for the City. The company collects these taxes and license fees for a small administrative fee but insures the collection of outstanding revenues.
The Council agreed to retain Babbs Engineering as its city engineer and building inspector. Babbs, who is a civil engineer, worked for the city in prior administrations but was not involved in the past four years. Babbs helped the City to seek and implement various state and federal grants for infrastructure improvements in the past and feels he will be able to help again in expanding resources.
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:

• Approved purchase of a new water flow meter for well #4 for $5,695, from Instrument Calibration Services.

• Approved purchase of a John Deere Compact Excavator for $44,200 which can serve as a back-hoe, tree trimmer and street maintenance machine. Gas tax funds were used for this purpose.

• Tabled a request to purchase a Jim House for the city lagoon for $12,373, pending a review by the city engineer of the need for this equipment.

• Approved a permanent change in the time of Eutaw City Council regular meetings from 6:00 PM to 5:00 PM on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.

• Approved travel for the Chief of Police and Court Clerk for training.

• Tabled a liquor license request from Sleepy’s Bar and Grill, pending receipt of more information.

• Tabled a request for licensing a day care center in a Branch Heights residence by Valerie Nixon, pending review of zoning and residential codes in the area.

• Approved payment of claims against the city by Buenia Fluker Clark and Edward Hutton.

Mayor Johnson reported that she settled a large past due phone bill from the prior administration to be able to continue necessary and vital phone and wifi services for City Hall, Police Department and the water system. She also reported that she has renewed negotiations for lighting at the Interstate 20/59 Exit 40, near the Love’s Truck Stop with the Alabama Department of Transportation.
Ralph Liverman, financial consultant for the City of Eutaw gave a report on a dozen bank accounts maintained by the city for various purposes, mainly related to grants, and the receipts and expenditures in those accounts for the past two years. He reported no exceptional expenditures and showed funds available from the gas tax accounts and bingo proceeds for additional infrastructure and equipment needs of the city. He is still reviewing the city’s finances for purposes of developing a general fund and capital improvement budgets.