New Carlisle City Council did not pass an ordinance to raise water rates an estimated 35% over the next three years.
The increase in rates was to pay for needed repairs to the Scarff Road Water Tower that has not seen any maintenance since it was built over 30 years ago.
Darrel Bolling, of Utilities Service Company, the company that was to make the repairs, said that the exterior coating of the tower is near the end of its useful life. “If you delay, you’ll probably have to blast the coating off of the tower,” said Bolling. “Since there is a high concentration of lead in the coating, that will make it very expensive.”
The company will refinish the exterior of the tower the first year and the interior on the third year and will maintain it for six years. The price tag is $115,000 per year for six years.
Before a standing-room-only crowd at the Smith Park Shelter House, council members expressed their concerns about the impact of such an increase on taxpayers in the city, particularly those on fixed incomes.
Another resident expressed concerns about the quality of the water, since the tower has not had maintenance in over 30 years.
“We take samples daily,” said Public Works Director Howard Kitko. “And we test for bacteria several times each month. If we find any indication of problems with the interior, we can call Utilities Service and they will schedule the refinishing of the interior right away.”
Council Member Rick Lowrey introduced a motion to table the ordinance for 45 days in order to explore other options and to possibly assemble a committee of citizens to review the need for repairs to the tower.
Instead, council defeated the ordinance unanimously. They will instead be looking at several other options presented to them by City Manager Randy Bridge.
“We have seven different ways to pay for this,” said Bridge. “I didn’t expect council to make a decision tonight. I expected them to take the information, digest it and take action later.”
Council also had several other issues before them that drew several comments from the public.
All of the residents speaking on the donation of the Belle Manor building to the city either spoke against it or urged more caution in completing the deal.
“The building was valued at $1.2 million in 2012, now it’s only valued at about $700,000,” said resident Danita Carsey. “Where did the half million go? I would say it was caused by deferred maintenance.”
She said that getting the building for $1 sounds like a fabulous thing, but that the city hasn’t done well with financial dealings in the past. She cited the Madison Street School and Twin Creeks as two prime examples.
Bridge said that it was a state-regulated nursing home that had to be maintained to state standards. “It’s in excellent condition,” he said. “We have a 3-year-old Phase 1 report to prove it.”
He also objected to her statement regarding the city’s financial dealings in the past. “Those deals predated me and most of the members of this council,” said Bridge. “What we have done is cut expenses so that we have a $500,000 surplus in 2016 that we can set aside for any future emergency.”
“I don’t vote my conscience,” said Council Member Rick Lowrey. “I vote what people tell me, and I cannot and will not vote to acquire Belle Manor.” Lowrey noted that no one has stood up at a council meeting or told him in private that the city needs the Belle Manor facility.
Bridge suggested that council at least get the asbestos study done. “But if I were one of you, I would have phase 1 done to cover myself.”
Council voted to have the asbestos study done at a price of $4,500.
Council also had an ordinance before them to raise salaries of the City Manager, the Finance Director and the Public Works Director by 3.6%, retroactive to January 1, 2017.
Bridge asked council to table that ordinance. “I don’t want to put council in the position of voting on an increase in water rates and an increase in payroll at the same meeting.”
“The value of a manager is based on how much they generate in savings to the taxpayer,” he said. “We have saved this city over a half million dollars last year.”
He said that since the city’s management has not had a raise in several years, they were long overdue.
The ordinance was tabled.
Misti Hedrick addressed council about her pet pot-bellied pig that she has had for two years. She has been cited by the city’s Code Enforcement officer for keeping livestock within the city limits.
“I really feel for her situation, but it’s really out of my realm,” said Bridge. “I cannot pick and choose which ordinances I want to enforce.”
Council Member Ethan Reynolds suggested a petition to put on the ballot a change to the city’s ordinance. The next available date it can appear on a ballot, according to Reynolds, would be August.
Hedrick asked if she could get a variance to the ordinance to keep her pig until the issue could appear on a ballot.
“I live outside of the city limits, and I have a pot-bellied pig,” said Clerk of Council Gene Collier. “My suggestion to you would be to find someone who can take care of it until the results of the election are known.”
Resident Christine Walker asked council about their long-term goals for the city.
“As a young professional, why would you come here?” asked Bridge. “You pull into town and see the city has a pool. Good. You go to the city building, an old doctor’s office, and ask what services the city offers. You are told ‘none.’ You want to take your dog to the dog park. We don’t have one.”
“We are doing the very best we can with what we have,” said Bridge.
During the Town Hall portion of the meeting, Bridge addressed the petitions being circulated to allow credits toward New Carlisle income tax for taxes paid to other communities.
“We have a 1.5% income tax, the lowest in the area,” said Bridge. “If you work in Springfield and pay their 2.5% tax, you will get that credited toward your New Carlisle income tax, leaving nothing for your home city.”
Bridge said that this tax credit would mean a loss to the City of New Carlisle of over one million dollars per year. “That would put the city back into serious financial problems,” he said.
Fire Chief Steve Trusty thanked the community for donations of over $13,000 so that the Fire Department could buy a Lucas Tool. The device performs perfect CPR on a patient, freeing up Medics to tend to the patient’s other needs or to other patients.
Addressing the audience, Trusty said “Every time we use it, it’s like you are putting your hands on the patient.”
Police Administrator Ralph Underwood presented statistics on police reports in the city in 2016 compared to 2015. A council member asked why there were statistics for overdoses in 2016, but not in 2015.
“Overdoses were not a problem in 2015. We had 17 overdoses in 2016,” said Underwood. Trusty added that there have been 18 overdoses so far this year, and two of them were DOA.
Bridge thanked the crowd that packed the Shelter House for their attendance. “I’ve seen more people here tonight than I’ve seen in the five years I’ve worked here,” he said. “This is how government works.”
The next meeting of the New Carlisle City Council will be on Monday, March 20 at 7:00 p.m. at the Smith Park Shelter House. The public is invited to attend.