City Officials Increase Fees For Multi-purpose Use
By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Aldermen raised the price to rent the civic auditorium at their regular “first Tuesday” meeting, March 3.
The regularly scheduled monthly session didn’t begin until 6:47 p.m. due to a lack of a quorum. Aldermen Lance Clement and Fred White were not on hand at the 6:30 p.m. start time. Eventually White showed up.
None of the candidates for city office attended the meeting except for the three board incumbents.
The aldermen’s decision on the rate increase finally came after more than 20 minutes of back and forth that followed similar discussion at four previous meetings.
The topic was first brought to the board’s attention in November of last year. It was discussed again at two meetings in January and once again in February.
Mayor Bill Norris explained that the rental fee is currently $150 a day and the city has been giving extra time to renters. “We received $3125 last year and we spent about $4300,” he said. “We lost a little over $1100.”
The loss is calculated just on the heating and cooling expenses for 22 rentals last year, according to the mayor. Other expenses, such as upkeep on the facility and labor to clean up after events, are borne by the city.
“We need to at least break even,” Norris said.
Alderman Charlie Harris injected, “That’s what I was thinking. Using some kind of scale just to break even.”
“We could go up 37 percent and break even,” said Alderman Sherry Martin. “So why don’t we go up a third. That would be $200 instead of $150 and we would break even.”
One of the problems faced by city officials has been an increase in hours used for practice, decorating, or rehearsals. In the past, the extra time was donated. But, the number of additional hours being requested has increased and so have costs.
At one point aldermen were discussing the use of the facility by the schools that stretched over four days. Alderman White said he didn’t believe the city should charge the school anything. “Especially these days and times when everybody is scrapping for money.”
“Including us,” added Martin.
“Including us,” White agreed.
The mayor reminded the aldermen that the city has been providing at least one city worker and sometimes two, usually on overtime, at the events and for clean up afterwards. “If we just break even on electricity and gas, I guess we can absorb the other,” Norris said.
“So we are still giving a lot of services right there,” Alderman Harris commented and then added, “The taxpayers are paying that extra.”
Alderman Martin made a motion to charge $200 per day. Harris added a second.
Alderman White still expressed concern that those who use the facility would be paying “the city’s light bill.” He also emphasized that the rules should be the same for everyone.
After final discussion Aldermen Martin and Harris voted for the motion and White voted against.
Among other actions the Board of Aldermen:
• Approved rezoning one-third of the old Water Valley Housing Authority office from R-3 (multi-family residential) to CBD (central business district). The vote came after a brief public hearing during which their were no objections to the rezoning.
• Paid board attorney Burns $1192.02.
• Voted unanimously to table until the next meeting action on the electric department service policy. The new policy was introduced at the February meeting and copies given to aldermen so that they could study the changes.
• Approved payment of invoices totaling $17,881.88 for the Baker Street Park grant.
• Made a donation of $500 to the Red Cross.
• Granted approval to apply for a grant that would allow the city to pick up household hazardous waste items. The pick-up would be over a one or two day period to be announced later.
• Agreed to advertise for an 80 kW generator to be used at the sewage treatment plant. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality requires an alternative power source to operate the system or else halt all flow to the lagoon in the event of a power failure.
“That pretty much means you would have to turn off all the water in town,” Water and Sewer Department Superintendent Morris Surrette warned.
• Agreed to advertise for a new employee in the water department after hearing from Surrette of the “voluntary termination” of an employee.
• Approved getting quotes on five water fountains to be located in the sports complex and at the city parks.
• Gave permission to Attorney Burns to pursue a sublease for use of the aerobic lagoon at the city’s wastewater treatment facility. Burns explained that the sublease should have been in place months ago, but the company had not provided the signed document.
• Appointed Betty Ruth Swearengen, wife of former Ward Three Alderman Tommy Swearengen, to fill the remainder of his term. Thomas S. “Tommy” Swearengen died Feb. 11.
• Swapped the April 27 Confederate Memorial Day Monday holiday for Good Friday on April 10.
• Entered a just over 20 minute executive session for the discussion of a personnel matter.
• Voted to promote David Floyd to the position of Assistant Superintendent of the Water and Sewer Department after returning from executive session.
• Adjourned at 8:21 p.m. The next regular meeting will be Tuesday, April 7, at 6:30 in the boardroom at city hall.
Water Superintendent Requests Pay Scale To Be Brought In Line With Other Departments
By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Water and Sewer Department Superintendent Morris Surrette believes his employees should receive better pay for their work in an environment that is nasty, unhealthy, and dangerous.
Surrette made the request to aldermen at the regular “first Tuesday” meeting March 3. “I’m here tonight to ask you to review the pay rate for the water and sewer department employees and consider bringing them in line with the pay scale of another department here in the city.”
The other department to which he referred is the city electric department. Surrette passed out a sheet with a wage comparison for the two departments.
The figures presented to the board showed that electric department workers made on average 37 percent more in 2008 and 45 percent more in 2009.
Surrette read from a prepared statement: “My people in the water and sewer department…your people in the water and sewer department work as hard or harder as any other employee in the city. They often work in an environment that is nasty, unhealthy, and dangerous. They are subject to catch any disease that any person in this city has that uses our sewer system.”
“They are exposed daily to a variety of bacteria and viruses,” he continued. “These people work in trenches whose walls might collapse and bury them. They work in sewer lift stations where a pipe plug might fail and thousands of gallons of water come in on top of them. They repair leaks in holes sometimes that we don’t have any way to cut the water off.”
“They work on electrical control panels and pump motors sometimes standing ankle deep in water. And, they handle poisonous chemicals every day,” Surrette said describing the hazardous conditions under which they work.
“These people keep your drinking water clean and safe. They make sure our wastewater is channeled to the lagoon and treated so that when it reaches our lake it is safe for our children to fish in and to play in.”
“There aren’t many people who will do what these guys do on a daily basis. And, my opinion is that just because they do a job that most people wouldn’t do shouldn’t mean they are paid a lesser wage than those who work in a cleaner environment.”
“As y’all can see from that handout there is quite a difference in the pay scale. And, I am asking for some help in getting the pay a little more equalized department wide,” he concluded.
Alderman Sherry Martin turned to Board Attorney David Burns and asked, “Is this something we should have covered in executive session.”
“You are talking about an entire department,” answered Burns. “I guess you, arguably, could have. But, you are talking about a group as opposed to one or two people, I think it is questionable. I would also add that the information on here is a matter of public record anyway.”
“He’s asking y’all to review it,” said Mayor Norris.
“And, give us some help on this,” Surrette added. “They do a dangerous job and a nasty job. Most people wouldn’t want to do that job. I’ve got a good group of guys right now. I’m proud of them and proud of the job they do. I would like to think that y’all are too.”
Alderman Martin made the motion and the board voted to take Surrette’s request under advisement.
After the vote, Street Department Superintendent Mike Scroggins requested that the board also take the pay scale for his department under advisement.