Split Vote on Monteagle Town Council Budget; Spray Park on Hold
Thursday, June 7, 2018
by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
In a divisive vote at the May 29 meeting, the Monteagle Town Council approved moving $250,000 designated for a children’s spray park to the fire department’s account. Mayor David Sampley and Alderwoman Susie Zeman opposed the decision, and subsequently, voted against approving the 2018-19 budget.
Prior to the vote, Monteagle resident Dianne Nunn spoke in favor of the spray park. Citing her background in community service, Nunn said, “Pleasant places attract people and help the income level.” Nunn recommended grant funding to help finance the spray park and invited those interested in pursuing the project to contact her at (580) 371-5585.
The inadequacy of the current fire hall drove the decision to move the spray park funds to the fire department’s account. Sampley said getting the fire hall up to code would cost at least $500,000. The additional $250,000 will bring the fire hall renovation/replacement budget up to $486,000.
Alderman Ken Gipson opposed renovating the old building, which is not owned by the city, and instead recommended applying for grants to build a new fire hall.
Fire Chief Mike Holmes estimated the cost of a new building at $800,000, based on the cost of the new fire hall recently constructed by Winchester. Holmes pointed to Community Development Block Grants and USDA grants as possible funding sources.
Alderman Ron Terrill insisted the need for a fire hall took precedence over the spray park and recommended applying for grants for both the fire hall and spray park projects.
Disagreeing with the spray park decision, Sampley and Zeman also voted against approving the town’s budget for 2018–19. The budget passed on a first reading by a three-to-two vote.
In other business, the council approved increasing court costs by $10 to finance enhancing the Courtware software program already in use. The software upgrade will compile state reports for police and enable officers to generate reports from the field.
The board also approved increasing tap fees for new water utility customers to offset the increased cost of parts.
“Water bills won’t change,” stressed City Recorder Debbie Taylor.
Addressing the need for a city ordinance officer to assist Codes Enforcement Officer Earle Geary, the council voted to post the position with a recommended salary of $10,000 per year, an increase of $7,600 over the current wage. David Meeks, the current ordinance officer, is expected to retire.
As a benefit to city employees, the council also voted to increase holidays from six to 12.
“The change doesn’t increase operating costs,” explained city CPA Don Mills. “Employees just get to stay home an extra six days.”
Taking up another employee benefits matter, the council discussed the practice approved by the council in 2009 of letting police officers take police cars home.
“It’s a safety issue,” insisted Police Chief Virgil McNeese, explaining when a call for officer assistance came in officers could go directly to the scene rather than drive to the police department to pick up a car.
Mills estimated the fuel cost to the town at $9,100 per year.
Alderman Gibson objected to the practice. “We’re spending way too much money. We’ve bought five police cars in the past two years.”
Officers who take cars home must live within 25 miles of the police department.
Alderman Terrill said, “It’s a benefit we give to police officers. I was glad to see the fuel cost was no more than it is.”
Revisiting an issue raised at the April meeting, Rocky Top Truck Stop and Wrecker Service owner Rodney Kilgore said he had erected a chain link fence and intended to cover it with black plastic to conceal junked conveyances on his property from view. Kilgore also agreed to pay the fines for not erecting the fence in a timely manner.
The council meets next on June 25. The theme for the July 4 Monteagle parade is “Let Freedom Ring.”