By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Upgrades in city utilities were the major topic of discussion at the regular “first Tuesday” meeting of the board of aldermen April 7.
However, the first order of business was welcoming Alderman Betty Ruth Swearengen to her first board meeting. “It’s a great honor to have Mrs. Betty Swearengen as our new alderman,” Mayor Bill Norris said.
Swearengen was appointed in March to fill the remainder of the term of her husband, Thomas S. “Tommy” Swearengen, who died Feb. 11. She was among the first to arrive for the meeting and was seated in her husband’s chair reading the materials prepared for the aldermen.
After approving the agenda and the minutes, alderman voted to adopt a service policy and procedure manual for the electric department. The new manual brings the department’s policies up to date and makes them more uniform, according to board attorney David Burns.
Burns and Electric Department Manager Joe Newman had worked together by taking a “hodge-podge” of old policies to create a new, more structured policy that is easier to follow.
Later in the meeting, alderman voted to improve another of the city’s utility departments by adopting a long-range plan for the water and sewer system.
“The health department likes to see us planning for the future,” said Water and Sewer Department Superintendent Morris Surrette. “Each year, during our inspection, they ask me to see our long-range improvement plan and up to now I haven’t had one.”
“We are rated every year on our system,” Surrette continued. “We’ve got some problems with our system that need to be addressed.”
Among the problem, he said, is installing flow meters on more of the city’s water wells to help identify where water is being lost in the system. The currently installed meters have helped cut a 23 to 27 percent loss down to around nine percent.
Surrette added that the plans include increasing water pressure in areas of the city that are currently experiencing low pressure. He explained the plan wasn’t things that had to be done right away, but would make state health department officials understand that the city is aware of deficiencies in the system.
Among other actions the Board of Aldermen:
• Approved a request by James Woodard to locate a pool hall at 595 Wise St;
• Accepted the certification of city clerk Vivian Snider from a mandatory municipal court clerk training seminar;
• Approved payment of an invoice for legal services from the Burns Law Firm;
• Approved quotes for recreational equipment for Baker Street Park under the grant from the Mississippi Development Authority;
• Tabled for further study the purchase of drinking water fountains for several of the city’s parks and recreational areas. New alderman Swearengen’s first official act was to second the motion on this item;
• Approved the attendance of Zoning and Floodplain Administrator/ Building Inspector Billy Humphreys at the 2009 Building Officials of Mississippi summer training session June 8-12;
• Approved the attendance of two employees from the street department at a mosquito control training seminar at Pearl April 22-23;
• Approved repairs on the city’s late-60’s model Caterpillar D5 bulldozer and a 1972 Massey-Ferguson backhoe. The city has already spent more than $30,000 on the bulldozer over the past two years;
• Tabled the agenda item “attorney general opinion” for a future meeting. The opinion was regarding fees for utility services. Special Assistant Attorney General Leigh Triche Janous wrote that a municipality could not charge less for services than the cost to provide them. “As such would result in an unlawful donation.”
Mayor Norris said Tuesday morning before the meeting that he would have Tom Abernathy of the Rural Water Association come and explain the recent water rate study to aldermen;
• Approved a request from Police Chief Mike King to apply for a COPS Hiring and Recovery Program grant which would pay the entry-level salary of a new police officer for 36 months. The catch, according to Chief King, is that the city would have to retain and pay the officer for at least an additional year.
The police department is currently short handed, Mayor Norris said, because there are two officers on active duty with the military.
Aldermen held a brief discussion of how to retain police officers because of the number who have been trained at the Water Valley’s expense and then moved on to other cities. Attorney Burns explained that there was no employment contract that could effectively prevent a person from resigning.
Aldermen agreed that the program was a good deal for the city and voted to apply for the grant;
• Approved hiring several new employees after a brief executive session. Robert Anthony Bennett was hired for the water and sewer department and long-time employee Jimmy Campbell was designated as trainer for the department;
• Hired part time employees Kehl Hammond in the electric department and Noah Fondon and Donald Bell in the cemetery and parks department;
• Adjourned after meeting for just over an hour at 7:36 p.m. All board members were present with Alderman Charlie Harris coming in at 6:35 and Alderman Fred White coming in at 6:36.
The next regular meeting of the board will be May 5 at 6:30 in the boardroom at city hall.