Water issues take up much of Albany City Council meeting

Posted February 10, 2021 at 2:57 pm

Albany City Council covered several topics at its regular monthly meeting last Tuesday, February 2. The session lasted just over 45 minutes with all members on hand.

David Bowles, of Monarch Engineers, first gave a brief update on the Duvall Valley/Bald Rock water improvement project.

The engineer told the council that property easements for the work were continuing to be secured but noted it was somewhat of a slow process.

Albany Mayor Lyle Pierce asked the engineer when the city may see actual dirt being moved on the construction of the project. Bowles said it was “hard to say…hopefully (late) this summer, but don’t hold me to that.” He noted a lot of variables had to be considered, including a new administration in Washington, among others.

Councilman Joe Stockton asked Bowles if there was any type of temporary “quick fix” that would help those residents in that area this summer before the project is completed. He noted the amount of time the fire department is using to haul water to that location, as well as the amount of water being used, the manpower it takes and wear and tear on fire department vehicles that transport the water to those areas.

David Guffey, a water department employee, said the problem had been ongoing over many years, due primarily to different size lines that connect to each other and the amount of extra development of residents and poultry houses being constructed over the years. He said the different sizes of lines had definitely caused a lot of low water pressure over time.

Stockton also questioned the feasibility of putting in a temporary pump, but Bowles said temporary fixes to the problem had not worked in the past and a pump would not generate enough pressure, again echoing the smaller line problem in some areas.

The engineer theorized that “if we can hold on one more summer, we should be out of the woods.”

In a brief discussion of the street department’s salt spreader, which street department employee Brooks Ferguson said had a few problems overheating due to heavy use during a recent snow and ice event, the mayor and council commended that department for their work during the most recent snow and icy periods the area has gone through.

At the January meeting of the council, there had been discussion on the need to raise general fund revenue, and one suggestion was to possibly increase the property tax rate, which has been at 18 cents per $100 assessed value for almost 30 years.

Councilman Stockton, however, again asked about a possible restaurant tax to make it more fair for more people to pay instead of just property owners.

Mayor Pierce said there would have to be a process to go through, including an ordinance and a vote by the council, but further stated he didn’t feel there were enough restaurants in the city to help generate much revenue.

Stockton did note, however, the long lines at the drive through window at McDonald’s, as an example of the business restaurants get in the city.

City legal advisor Norb Sohm was not present at the meeting to offer an legal advise or input on the matter and no further action was taken on the suggestion of a restaurant tax.

Sarah McWhorter, who works in the water department, noted it has been a rough several weeks for the water department and delays in getting meters read and bills sent out on time–due to several employees having to be quarantined at one time or another due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was noted, however, that the walk-up window for patrons to pay their bills while city hall is closed is now open and an awning will soon be installed.

On the water department billing, councilwoman Sarah Browning had a question about automatic bill pay, and presented a copy of a bill from an outside billing company (which customers can use if they choose to do so) that showed a resident had paid their bill, but the balance carried forward showed as if it had not been paid and contained a late fee.

McWhorter said many times these situations are due to the mail delivering those type bills late and said it was cheaper on customers to pay bills automatically through either credit cards or bank debit cards.

The city is working to help customers deduct their water bills directly from their banks online, with banks not charging any extra fees for the service. McWhorter noted that all banks have auto pay.

At the conclusion of the discussion on the water bill that was presented and billing system, the mayor said he could guarantee that any such bills are and would be taken care of by McWhorter and the water department employees.

The council then voted to approve a 2020-21 budget amendment to include $144,100 in COVID-19 relief funds as part of the Cares Act and briefly discussed looking for much needed equipment for local departments, such as water and sewer, street department and others.

Councilwoman Tonya Thrasher then questioned whether or not the recreation park board had received any more back funding for the city’s annual allotment, as there have been questions about the city being in arrearage.

City Clerk/Treasurer Melissa Smith noted she was aware the city was behind and was working with park board officials to determine the exact amount. However, she noted a quarterly installment would be made last week.

Mayor Pierce thanked the street and water departments for their assistance in helping pass out food to those in need during commodities days, with councilwoman Browning also thanking the city employees, as well as the police department for their work on those days.

The program, which sees food handed out to those in need monthly, is a project through Good Shepherd Ministries.

The mayor also reminded council members to continue to consider some type of leash law for the city, noting several complaints had been received about dogs running the streets unleashed in the downtown area.

Brooks Ferguson then noted the trash problems in some areas of the city, saying several locations involved rental properties.

The mayor said beginning this spring, the city would be looking at having those areas cleaned up at the expense of the owners.

He further noted the city does have a nuisance ordinance in place, and some council members suggested having the current ordinance revamped. Mayor Pierce said that under the ordinance, the city could file a lien on the property if property owners do not comply.

The next regular meeting of Albany City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2, at Albany City Hall.