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Council discusses severance pay for Young, water rate hike

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By Charlotte Underwood

It was a full agenda at Monday night’s LaFollette City Council workshop, with the library project, the water/sewer rate increase and severance pay for David Young receiving the most discussion.

Council members briefly discussed whether or not to grant former city administrator Young severance pay.

“You have a letter there from Reid, from where he talked with John Roach and both attorneys recommend to go ahead and pay it,” said acting city administrator Terry Sweat.

“Well then, let’s put in on the agenda, pay the man and do what our attorney advises us to do,” Councilman Hansford Hatmaker said.

Hansford also asked if advertising for a city administrator could be placed on the agenda as well.

“I don’t know if we should do anything until this court date comes up,” said Coucilman Wayne Kitts.

“Yes, I would wait until after the fifteenth of October,” Councilman Bob Fannon said.

“I don’t think we need to be in any hurry, we’ve got Terry,” Councilman Joe Bollinger said.

The hiring of a city administrator was not placed on the agenda.

The council also briefly discussed the bridge project, which is taking place in front of the high school.

Head of the street department Jim Mullens approached the council and informed them that he had met with the county, the ambulance service, Chief James Lynch and others to discuss the traffic issue.

“We met and put together a proposal to the state for traffic control on the bridge project,” Mullens said. He told the council that the state wanted the city to pay for part of the cost of traffic control as well as accept part of the responsibility and liability that rerouting traffic would bring. Mullens told the state that the city could not do that.

“I told them, it’s your dog, you hunt him and feed him any way you want and we’ll assist any way that we can, but we can’t take on that responsibility,” Mullens told the council.

He said the ball was in the state’s court now and that he was waiting to hear from it what the traffic control proposal would be. The bridge project is projected to take 14 to 18 months to complete, according to Mullens.

LaFollette Utility Board members and General Manager Kenny Baird came to the workshop to discuss the water/sewer rate increase and to answer any questions the council had.

“I don’t like the idea-I’m not being negative on it, but I just don’t like two increases in one year,” Hatmaker said. He said he felt a 10-percent increase in January and again in July was just too much.

Hatmaker asked if there was anyway the increases could be stretched out on a 5-percent increase at a time, over a period of two years so that the people were affected less.

“If we did that, it would be better than zero, if it’s that or nothing, then I’m going to take what I can get, but the fact of the matter is we have to something, everybody saw the numbers,” Baird said, referring to the fact that the water department was losing money every month.

He also explained to the council and mayor that the rate proposal put forth by LUB was the smallest amount that would still allow the water department to break even.

“Even after the final increase, the minimum bill would only go to $12.65, which would still place LaFollette Utilities three dollars less than Caryville Jacksboro Utilities,” Baird said.

“You’ve got to keep in consideration, there comes a time you’ve got to cut back too,” Hatmaker said.

Baird agreed with Hatmaker that times were hard and the country was in a recessionary period. He said, however, that despite the fact that many businesses had to cut down, this simply wasn’t possible at the utility company.

“Even though we’re in a recession, the utility still has to serve the customes, there are lines that still need flushed, federal mandates that have to be met and costs that have to be covered,” Baird said, explaining that the utility still had the basic number of customers as before and therefore could not service these customers with less employees.

“I have to provide a clean water to the people. What happens if we shut the water plant down for a week? That would be a cut back, but we would all be ran out of town,” Baird said to Hatmaker.

“It’s a tough situation, but people were put on this board to make sure there is a fair balance between the consumer and the operating body and that’s all we are trying to do,” added LUB member Mark Hoskins.

“You can see the rate is not exorbitant when our neighbor with a smaller system is nearly 50-percent higher,” Baird said, once again referring to the rate the Caryville Jacksboro Utility charges.

No other discussion took place on the issue, but it was placed on the agenda for the Oct. 6 council meeting.

The proposed library project also garnered much discussion at Monday night’s workshop.

Architect Jeff Johnson approached the council on behalf of the library and discussed with it, the possibility of a new library.

He pointed out to the council that LaFollette’s service population for the library was over 8,000 and that according to the Tennessee Minimum Standards a service population of this size called for a much larger building.

The standards call for a 6,100 square foot building. The square footage of the current library is 1,600 feet, according to Johnson.

“I don’t need to tell you gentlemen how important a public library is,” Johnson said.

Johnson went on to tell the council that LaFollette was already ahead of other municipalities because it had three possible sites for the new, larger library.

The first site is the old West LaFollette School, which is 4,900 square feet. Johnson said that this would certainly be an improvement on space, but said that there were structural problems with the walls and the fact that there was only one bathroom in that area of the old school.

The second location discussed was the upper level of the recreational center, which is 4,200 square feet, still an improvement, but shy of the recommended states standards.

“It has good restroom facilities and parking, but the current layout of it just makes more sense,” Johnson said, pointing out both the pros and cons of this particular site to the council.

The third proposed site is a piece of city owned property located between the old school and the recreation center.

Johnson told the board that a new site would provide the city with the best possibility, as it would then be able to meet the recommended square footage.

LaFollette Librarian Nancy Green approached the council. She explained that considering the amount of money that was put into the library’s budget each year, the library yielded $13 to every $1 invested. These numbers were based on the amount of services that the library provides to the city.

“We provide $819,710 of services to the city,” Green said.

“I like the empty property that the city owns,” said LaFollette Mayor Mike Stanfield.

“I don’t care where you build it at, we need one; the people deserve one,” Hatmaker said.

The council agreed to put hiring Johnson as architect on the agenda for the next meeting.

The estimated cost of a new library would be between $800,000 and $900,000, according to Johnson.