Monteagle: Urgent Water Rate and Wage Increases

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

“We’re trying to head off the state setting the rates,” said Mayor Greg Maloof at the Jan. 29 Monteagle City Council meeting, explaining the need for the water rate increases approved by the council. “If the [Utility Department] shows a loss two years in a row, the state may step in. We’re on course for that.” The council also voted to increase wages for the police and several other departments to make earnings competitive with neighboring towns.

A 2 percent water usage-rate increase and $5 per customer monthly service fee will go into effect March 1. The service fee will generate $90,000 annual revenue. Alderman Nate Wilson said he initially objected to the service fee because the fee “disproportionately” impacted low-usage customers, but Wilson acknowledged the fee helped shift the revenue-need burden to second-home owners with typically low bills. Maloof does not anticipate additional rate increases for 2024-2025. “This [rate increase] should get us over the hump with the state,” Maloof said.

The “bulk” of money allocated for wage increases will go to the police, Wilson said. Monteagle used Municipal Technical Advisory Service data from the University of Tennessee to compare Monteagle’s wages with towns of similar size and neighboring towns competing for Monteagle’s workers. In addition to the police, fire department, street department, and codes enforcement officers will also receive wage increases drawn from the town’s “General Fund” budget. The financially strapped Utility Department has a separate budget, the “Enterprise Fund,” Maloof said, expressing “regret” only General Fund employees were considered for raises.

After long debate, the council approved on first reading the planning commission’s recommendation to increase the minimum-residence size for free-standing single-family homes from 600 square feet to 800 square feet. At present, R-1 residential has an 800 square feet minimum and R-2 and R-3 have a 600 square feet minimum. The planning commission “wrestled” with the recommendation, Maloof said, and decided the ruling should apply only to free-standing homes, not apartments and condominiums. Wilson argued Monteagle did not need to be concerned about tiny homes, 400 square feet or less, since only R-4 zoning allowed tiny homes and Monteagle had no R-4. Wilson said the ruling allowed residents to live in 600 square foot apartments, but “pushed people out of home ownership … The price cliff between building 600 square feet and 800 square feet is huge.” He pointed out Monteagle only had about a half dozen 600 square foot homes, but many homes in the 700-900 square foot range that began as smaller homes and were added onto. “It’s a ticklish situation,” Alderman Dan Sargent conceded. Alderwoman Dorraine Parmley insisted she wanted more discussion before deciding. Maloof said if the ordinance failed to pass on the first reading, discussion would end, whereas if the first reading passed, a second reading and public hearing would follow. The council approved the ordinance on first reading, with Wilson voting “no.” The first-reading approval would enable “the council to get more input” before deciding on final approval or denial, Maloof observed.

Commenting on the “unprecedented challenge” of the recent snow, ice, and freezing temperatures, Maloof said, “I’m not sure we’re done with winter.” If extreme winter weather occurred again, Maloof advised “if it’s not absolutely urgent you be out there, please stay home.” He cited several incidents, a car skidding underneath an 18-wheeler and an 18-wheeler truck blocking I-24 traffic towards Nashville. Maloof praised “the above and beyond call of duty” response of city employees. Police officers worked double shifts; the fire department helped remove downed trees and pulled cars out of ditches; and the utility department worked around the clock monitoring pumps and gauges and shutting off meters at residences with leaks due to frozen pipes. Although no main service lines burst, the town lost 800,000 gallons of water from residential leaks.

Steve Lamb with the Marion County Emergency Management Agency appealed to residents to respond to a four-question survey to collect data to aid the EMA in the required five-year update of the Hazard Mitigation Plan. Lamb stressed “revenue streams” availability hinged on the county having an updated plan in place, and resident data was key. The link for the survey is <;. It can be found on the Monteagle website <https://www.townofmonteagle-tn...;.

A second survey, also available on the Monteagle website Mayor’s Memo, seeks input on what sorts of recreational opportunities residents would like to see in Monteagle. Ty Burnett, heading up the effort, said a public meeting would follow at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, March 7, in the city hall conference room to review the survey responses.

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