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A Familiar Topic, Rising Fuel Prices, Creates Concern In City

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – Smoking, grass, and gas were among the topics of discussions at the regular monthly meeting of the Water Valley Board of Aldermen Tuesday night, May 6 at city hall.

 Mayor Bill Norris told the board that the cost of gas and oil has increased drastically. He said that an increase was taken into consideration last year during planning of the city budget. “But, we weren’t expecting this much.”

“I don’t know what the answer is. I have sent out memos to each department asking for them to try to cut back on gas and diesel use and it is still up there. Right now, we are in a money crunch on our gas and oil,” the mayor said.

The mayor gave an example using the police department’s fuel budget of $22,000. He said that they had already spent $19,000 with five months left in the fiscal year.

“Our police only have $3,000 left in their account,” the mayor said. “They may run out of gas in their budget,”

“Golf carts,” Alderman Charlie Harris suggested jokingly.

“I’d hate to see our policemen out there on bicycles trying to catch a speeder,” the mayor added with a chuckle.

“Have you talked with the chief?” asked Alderman Tommy Swearengen referring to Police Chief Mike King.

The mayor said that he had sent him a memo and added that last month they were over their budget by $5000 and a little over $6000 this month.

The mayor and board then discussed studying the mileage for vehicles driven home by department heads.

“Something is going to have to be done about our gas. It’s not only us. It’s other cities and counties, too,” the mayor added.

Board Attorney David Burns injected that the problem was nationwide and there was only so much the city could cut back on services, particularly police protection.

According to statistics from the American Automobile Association, the national average price for gasoline has risen from $3.06 a year ago to the current $3.72 per gallon.

Some of the city’s work vehicles use diesel fuel that has gone up over the past year from $2.90 to $4.36 per gallon on average nationwide.

Board members agreed that there was only so much that could be done to cut down on fuel consumption and still maintain the proper level of city services.

“It’s something we’re going to have to look at in the month of July for sure,” the mayor said, “because the money’s not there.”

Lack of funds could also effect the appearance of the city this summer. The mayor said that the lowest bid for grass cutting was going to cost the city over $32,000 for twelve weeks. “We do not have that in our budget,” he said.

“We do have $20,000 in our budget for weed eating and mowing,” the mayor added. He explained that if the city hired three part time workers over the same period the cost would be only $16,000. That would leave approximately $4000 for purchase of needed equipment.

Alderman Fred White asked, “Is this just the streets? What about the parks and cemeteries?”

The mayor said the cemeteries and parks department would still be doing those areas. “Last year we used an outsider and they ate us alive. Thirty-six thousand and something,” he commented, referring to the amount charged by the firm.

 “That didn’t work at all,” Alderman Swearengen added. He then asked who would oversee the part-time workers.

“It’ll be Mike Scroggins,” the mayor answered.

 “We don’t have the equipment, right?” questioned Alderman Lance Clement.

“We have two weed eaters,” the mayor said and added that William Beard, supervisor of cemeteries and parks provided two lawn mowers. “But they are on their last legs.”

Alderman Sherry Martin said, “I guess we are going to have to do it ourselves then.”

“To stay within budget we are going to have to,” the mayor emphasized.

Alderman Martin said she didn’t know what happened last year, but she remembered that it didn’t work. “We need to do something different.”

“If we are going to need some extra supervision,” Martin added, “I think some of us could help out.”

The mayor expressed concern that the city was behind on grass cutting and some of the streets “looked rough.”

Alderman White asked about the possibility of other city departments hiring a part time worker to help with grass cutting. He said that he didn’t believe that three people could handle all grass the cutting.

“I don’t think we have much of a choice except to do it ourselves,” White said. “We don’t have the money to hire it out. Just do it in house with part-time summer help.”

Mayor Norris commented, “There are plenty out there who are wanting to work part-time, too.”

Alderman White added, “We have always hired school kids during the summer time and

most of them have worked out for the better.”

“I think we should do it in-house,” Alderman Swearengen said. “The big thing is getting someone to work.”

Swearengen then made the motion to do the work in-house and Harris seconded it with the provision to hire three part-time employees. That motion passed unanimously.

White suggested that if there was enough money in some of the other city departments that they hire a part-time person to help with the grass cutting chores.

After discussion of White’s suggestion, alderman decided instead to authorize up to two additional part-timers if needed. That motion received four yes votes with White casting a no vote.

In other action:

• Mayor Bill Norris removed two of the agenda items; one was bids for a storage building at the Crawford Sports Complex and the other was bids for a mosquito sprayer. Only one bid had been received for the building and none for the sprayer.

• Board Attorney Burns reported his findings on a smoking ban. Burns was asked by the board to look at the issue after citizens appeared at the April meeting seeking a ban on smoking in public places.

 “Properly drawn ordinances of that type have withstood numerous constitutional challenges all across the country,” Burns said.

Burns explained that Mississippi has a state statue that is commonly referred to as the Mississippi Clean Indoor Air Act. However, it only applies to government owned buildings on the state level as well as university property.

“Apparently,” Burns added, “because       

  of some of the things that are going on in other states, and the argument that statues of this type would keep a municipality for passing an ordinance that would address the issue, our state statue was amended in 2006 to specifically say that it is not to be interpreted or construed as prohibiting a municipality or a county from adopting additional ordinances with regard to the issue of smoking in public places.”

“I will add that the tobacco industry has spent billions of dollars fighting the imposition of ordinances of this type. It doesn’t look like they have been that successful at a lot of levels, but it can be an expensive proposition,” he said.

Burns went on to explain that properly drawn ordinances have been upheld. He pointed out that one of the things than can affect an ordinance is attempting to include a lot of exceptions. Those exceptions can create equal protection and even due-process issues.

“So,” he concluded, “it can be done if it is something that the board wants to do.”

The mayor asked if there were any questions or any discussion.

Burns added one more comment saying that someone at the last meeting expressed concerns about smoking being prohibited in their home because they had a home-based business. Burns gave the example of the Oxford ordinance which states that private residences are not subject to smoking restrictions unless it is a day care facility or something similar.

The mayor then asked if it was the will of the board to pursue the issue.

“No one wants to say?” the mayor questioned after almost a minute of silence.

Alderman Charlie Harris suggested input from the merchants and Alderman Martin added that a public hearing should be scheduled.

Alderman Swearengen agreed with Harris saying that the city should hold a public hearing so that the business people and public could come and express their opinion.

Aldermen Clement and Martin agreed that more input was needed. Martin also mentioned that enforcement needed to be considered. “There will be a cost associated with that,” she said.

“Who enforces it?” questioned Alderman Harris.

Burns answered that in one of the sample ordinances the chief of police is responsible for enforcement and that the health department and fire department can inspect for compliance. “And, private citizens can register a complaint,” he added.

The mayor suggested that aldermen ask what business people think about the issue when visiting local stores.

Alderman Harris motioned to table the issue with a second from Alderman Clement. The vote was unanimous.

• Burns was also asked to report on “speed bumps” after a discussion at the last meeting of traffic problems involving speeders.

Burns said, “Speed bumps is listed here, but there are any number of traffic calming methods. Speed bumps and speed humps are widely used. Speed bumps are usually associated with parking lots. Speed humps cover a wider area and are about three inches high and are designed for slowing down vehicles that are travelling faster than where you are using speed bumps.”

“Speed humps cost between $1,000 and $2,000 to install each one,” Burns continued. “There is signage that has to be put into place and engineering issues which have to be addressed and also future maintenance that is required.”

“The biggest thing is the cost of doing it. I think it would be a great idea, but it doesn’t come cheap,” Burns concluded.

Alderman Martin said, “Why don’t we talk to Chief (Mike) King and see where they might benefit.”

• The mayor read a letter from Mary Freeman, a North Main Street resident and schoolteacher, expressing concerns over the behavior of some people within the city.

(See Letter Below)

After reading the letter, the mayor addressed Officer S. Crenshaw, who was attending the meeting, “I know you have stopped a good many of them and so have the other policemen.”

Crenshaw responded, “As soon as we leave they go somewhere else and turn it up. But, we try to stay on it.”

“I know you have written some citations and it seems like we need to write some more,” the mayor said.

• Attorney Burns had asked that rural water association contracts be put on the agenda because the two groups who buy water from the city are seeking contracts. “I understand the stability associated with a contract is beneficial for their budgeting.”

“And, long range planning,” interjected Buster Jackson of the Jeff David Rural Water Association.

“The only thing I would strongly suggest against would be entering into a long term contract,” Burns said commenting on the 30 years contracts of the past.

“Whatever you can do to help us, we would appreciate,” Jackson said. “We just want a contract so we can have some stability and so we can do some long range planning.”

Burns recommended that the contract contain language that any rate increase to city residents would also affect the rural water associations.

Burns suggested that he draft a proposed contact with input from the rural water associations for the board’s consideration at the next meeting.

• Joe Newman received permission from the board to pay a monthly bill for plain paper copies. The average bill is about $18, Newman said. The low price is due to a program in which Newman participates through the Tennessee Valley Authority.

• Aldermen voted to raise the price of garbage bags that can be purchased at city hall from $7 to $8 per box.

• The board paid an invoice for $1674.66 from the Burns Law Firm.

• Board members voted at 7:49 p.m. to go into executive session to discuss “personnel matter(s) and prospective real estate action(s).

 The board returned to regular session after one hour and thirty minutes in executive session.

The aldermen then voted to allow the booster club to build a field house on city owned property at the high school baseball field. The 15×30 foot structure will sit on a 30×50 concrete pad.

Board members voted to allow the fire department to hire Josh Ferguson as a part-time fireman/dispatcher to help relieve a manpower shortage in the department.

They also voted to let the cemeteries and parks department continue to dig graves rather than outside firms. The price of the service was raised from $200 to $300 on weekdays and from $250 to $350 on weekends. Aldermen Swearengen and Harris voting against the motion.

Letter To Water Valley City Officials

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. So, I am trying to do something. It has seemed to me for some time that there are many people living in Water Valley who expect no restrictions to be placed on their behavior. I believe this applies to several areas, but I will focus on one particular concern at this time.

Is there any obscenity law here in Water Valley? It seems that cars and trucks are free to let obscenity filled music blare from the vehicles freely. It blares as they drive the streets and they are parked at different places.

At the Sprintmart I have gone in to express my concern but get no more than a shoulder shrug. Can the Police Department do more to correct this. What perception do you want this town to be giving with the garbage-lined streets and the cars and trucks racing up and down the streets with obscenities blaring from vehicles. I believe it gives us a very sleazy perception.

I think there are still good people living in Water Valley who think it is time to freeze the sleaze. I certainly do and I hope you will take some real action.


Mrs. Mary Freeman

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