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 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.

Eutaw City Council moves forward, secures help with finances and operating water system

Tommy Johnson take oath of office as new Police Chief of Eutaw on Nov. 2, from Judge Josh Swords; his wife holds Bible.

By John Zippert,
Co-Publisher
The new Mayor and City Council of Eutaw met for its first regular meeting on November 10, 2020 at the Carver School Community Center gymnasium. The City Council held an Organizational Meeting on November 2nd after they were sworn-in to handle procedures and appointments.
Mayor Latasha Johnson said that she had spent most of the past week learning about the operation of the City’s water system and securing a needed permit from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which had expired in the Spring of the year.
Mayor Johnson indicated that she had received help from Kathie Horne of Rural Water Management, a consulting firm, that the previous mayor had barred from working at the City Hall. “We worked most of last week and weekend with ADEM to secure the permit to operate our water system. We were about to incur fines of $10,000 a day for being out of compliance but we have resolved this issue,” said Johnson.
Johnson, City Clerk Kathy Bir and Assistant Clerk Joe Lee Powell have worked with Rural Water Management, the computer softwear company that handles the water billing and others to begin to unravel the billing and water loss problems of the Eutaw Water System.
Powell said, “By January 2021, we should have a pretty good handle on the water meters, billing and revenues; in November, we billed for over $90,000 water, sewer and garbage bills. We are also enforcing a “no cash policy” which means residents must pay their bills with checks or money orders.”
Johnson presented a proposal from former City Council member, attorney and financial management consultant to York and Livingston, Ralph Liverman, to provide financial management services to the Eutaw City Council including preparing a budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, monthly financial reports, a four-year capital and infrastructure improvement plan and budget. Council approved this agreement with Liverman, which will cost no more than $1,500 a month.
The Council appointed Mayor Latasha Johnson as “City Water Superintendent” for a compensation of $800 month in addition to her salary as Mayor. When asked, how the City was going to pay for all these expenses, Mayor Johnson said, “We have found and deposited over $30,000 in checks and cash this week, that was casually lying around in the office, in drawers and cabinets. Also, we are expecting better revenues from the Water Department, as we straighten it out and there are some positions we discontinued and will not fill, until we are sure we can afford them.”
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• Received a proclamation from Alabama Governor Kay Ivy extending the state “Safer at Home” health order, which includes mandatory mask wearing, from November 8, 2020 to January 7, 2021. Councilwoman Tracie Hunter suggested that the City check with local businesses and urge them to enforce the mask mandate because some are not requiring mask wearing.
• Agreed to advertise available city positions for 3 weeks in both local newspapers. The positions include: Utility Clerk, Assistant Utility Clerk, UCR Clerk and Assistant Clerk, Water/Sewer Workers and Street/Garbage Workers.
• Approved a new City employee pay scale which will raise wages for most employees.
• Approved purchase of an overnight deposit bag for Merchants and Farmers Bank.
• Agreed to celebrate Veterans Day (November 11) as a paid holiday for city employees.
Chief of Police, Tommy Johnson introduced has staff of new officers and said all would wear unforms rather than other forms of dress.
Mayor Johnson asked Council members with resident’s complaints about streets, drainage and other concerns, to put them in writing and submit them, so she and the city staff can be sure to respond and correct any problems.
Councilwoman Jacqueline Stewart asked that the City Council members be informed between meetings of any new hires for city positions so that they would know before their constituents questioned them about new people.
Councilwoman Valerie Watkins asked for a training in Robert’s Rules of Order, so they would know the proper way to make motions and conduct city business.
Councilwoman Tracie Hunter asked the audience “To pray with us and for us and be patient as we learn how to be a good City Council.”