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published on 12/11/2002

Signal Mountain Town Council Meets

By staff writer

What started out as a fairly normal meeting, ended on a sad note at the December 9th Signal Mountain Town Council meeting. Mayor Jim Athaus opened the meeting and welcomed Boy Scout Troop 116 from Signal Crest United Methodist Church. Working on their American Heritage Badge, approximately twenty Boy Scouts and their leaders including Vice-mayor and Councilmember Bill Leonard were present.

Town recorder Diana Campbell called roll with Councilmembers Robert White, Rachel Bryant, and Steve Ruffin along with Mayor Jim Althuas and Vice-mayor Bill Leonard. Also present were town attorney Phil Noblett and town manager Hershel Dick.

After the minutes from the November 11th meeting were approved as corrected, the Town Council meeting was suspended and the Beer Board convened. Neal and Laura Stites, new owners of the Signal Mountain Market were present as well as former owner Ronnie Barber. A license to sell beer in Signal Mountain is required and approval of such license if applied to the owner, not the business. As new owners, the Stites needed to reapply for a license. Having met all the required fees, town manager Hershel Dick recommended the approval of their application. After discussion and questions by some councilmembers on matters about alcohol, but the not the Stites application, the application was approved unanimously and the Beer Board was closed and the Town Council Meeting reconvened.

Two resolutions were presented at the meeting:
The first was A RESOLUTION ADOPTING A DIGITAL VERSION OF THE ZONING MAP FOR THE TOWN OF SIGNAL MOUNTAIN. It is more efficient to maintain the zoning map in digital form, and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency uses one. The Signal Mountain Planning Commission recommended the Town adopt the digital zoning map prepared by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County RPA. According to Hershel Dick, the Town is equipped to do this with the exception of some new equipment, which he thinks would cost around $2000.

The second resolution presented at the meeting was A RESOLUTION APPOINTING THE TOWN MANAGER AS A BOARD MEMBER TO THE HAMILTON COUNTY WATER AND WASTEWATER TREATMENT AUTHORITY BOARD. Now that this board has control over the Town’s sewer, appointing Hershel Dick to their board will keep the Town of Signal Mountain informed. Hershel agreed to do this, and Councilmember Robert White thanked Hershel for his desire to serve on the Board which will be an asset to the community.

Both RESOLUTIONS passed unanimously.

There were two ordinances presented for approval on first readings:

The Town of Signal Mountain has the authority (from the State of Tennessee) to collect privilege taxes from individuals engaged in the business of selling alcoholic beverages for consumption on their premises. Approval of this ordinance authorizes the town manager to levy and collect privilege taxes on behalf of the Town.

The second ordinance up for approval pertained to municipal flood damage prevention. Approving this ordinance, as requested by the State of Tennessee, will minimize danger to life and property due to flooding, and establish eligibility for participation in the national flood insurance program. Only one small portion within the town limits is affected by this ordinance, the Middle Creek area. Both town manager, Hershel Dick and town attorney, Phil Noblett recommended this ordinance be approved.

Both ORDINANCES were approved on the first reading. Second readings will follow at the next regular meeting of the Town Council.

During the citizens and others opportunity to address the Council, resident, Mark Shartle praised the work at the Recycle Center but questioned the problem with the crusher and delay in fixing or replacing it, thus causing a hardship on the staff and volunteers at the Recycle Center. Hershel responded by saying the crusher was old and used when the Town bought it and now the broken part has to be replaced and is taking longer than expected. Councilmember Bill Leonard responded by praising the Recycle Center and then Mayor Althaus reminded everyone to not worry about the leaf pick-up—that all leaves will eventually be picked up. However, he pointed out that residents need to remember to NOT put leaves in the street—only up to the street.

The Planning Commission report presented to the Town Council by Lou Oliphant addressed two issues. One was the approval of the Annual Performance Report from the Local Planning office of the State of Tennessee. Included in that report was a strategic plan concerning the Historic District and the request that the Town adopt a new floodplain ordinance. The Planning Commission approved both these issues. Lou also pointed out that the terms of two members of the Commission, Jean Bullard and herself, expire this month and that new officers will be elected at the January 9th (note new date) meeting. The Town Council agreed by general consent to approve the re-appointment of both women with their approval.

Town recorder, Diana Campbell reported that signature cards needed to be signed by all members of the Town Council, as both SunTrust Bank and Tri-County Citizens needed new cards now that a new Council is in place. Hershel Dick reported that the Town had been asked to donate to the Police Monument Fund, and though a worthy project, the fund is not budgeted and therefore, Hershel recommended the Town not make a donation at this time but to include it as a budgeted item next year. The members of the Town Council agreed by general consent.

Hershel Dick asked for an emergency purchase order for pump repair at a cost of $109,135.00. Two of the five water pumps have broken down; the first has worked for 21 years and the other for 13. Money to repair the pumps comes from the water budget and not the general budget. The Town Council approved it.

Under NEW BUSINESS, Councilmember Rachel Bryant thanked Hershel for supplying equipment to Ashley Ward who is working on his Boy Scout Eagle project at the ball fields and needed extra help. She then asked if something could be done about “free play” on Sunday’s in the gym at Town Hall. Seems the “big kids” (adults) are keeping the “little kids” (children) from playing and are not sharing the courts. Hershel said he would talk to Scott Cook and come up with some sort of solution. Rachel also brought up the subject of the resent decision of the Mountain Education Council reported in the Signal Mountain Post to no longer donate a portion of funds to the Signal Mountain Library. Rachel suggested the Town subtract from the funds it normally gives to the MEF, which is usually given to the Town Library and give that portion directly to the Library.

Councilmember Steve Ruffin congratulated Jean Dolan and her husband for sixty years of marriage. He then asked Hershel if there was money in the budget to repair sidewalks, as he was concerned about the many sidewalks in disrepair especially those near Alexian Village. Hershel pointed out that all homeowners are responsible for repairing the sidewalks in front of their homes. Steve then suggested the Town come up with a sidewalk plan to which Lou Oliphant responded that there was a plan in place now – it just needs to be implemented.

Vice-mayor and Councilmember Bill Leonard said that he had being going around to all the departments in the Town and wanted to compliment Hershel Dick for the outstanding job he and his department heads are doing. Bill also addressed the issue of the terrible traffic jam in front of Thrasher Elementary School this year. He asked Hershel to look into to it and see if some alternate solution can be made to alleviate the problem. Finally he reported that he represented the Town of Signal Mountain at an orientation presented by Hamilton County concerning small pox. It was reinforcement to the communities that the County is prepared in the rare chance that small pox or some other form of bio terrorism happens. A copy of the presentation will be made available to the Town shortly.

The Mayor had three items he wanted to discuss. The first was a decision made at the recent mid-term meeting to have an in-depth study made of the traffic light at the top of the mountain.

The second item he discussed concerned a question he was asked at the “Meet the Candidate” night about guardrails on Mississippi Avenue. The grant money ($30,000) originally designated for that project provided for rails on the brow as well as Mississippi Avenue and required matching funds from the Town. As time passed a new grant became available which the Town now expects to use. This time the money ($50,000) does not require both spots be repaired nor does it require matching money. Now the work can be done, according to the Mayor.

The third item the Mayor discussed was a response to MEF issue. Having served on the original board that created the MEF, Mayor Althaus was more than upset with the recent article in the Post. He learned that not only were things said in the paper that were inaccurate but he wanted the Mountain Education Council to reconsider this decision. When he learned from a member of the audience that they had met and voted unanimously to withhold funds to the Library, the Mayor became even more upset. It became clear during the discussions that although the Mountain Education Council feels the original intent of designating money to Library no longer exist – the real reason they decided to not do it is because non-residents of Signal Mountain threatened and in fact have not given to the MEF because they have to pay to use the Library. Herein lies the Mayor’s dilemma as he questions the logic in this thought. He asks, “Why should the non-residents not have to pay to use the Library when the residents have to pay?”

(Editor’s note: This is a very confusing issue for both residents and non-residents. But the truth is the residents of Signal Mountain pay the exact same amount ($49) to use the Signal Mountain Library as non-residents. They just don’t write a separate check. It comes out of their taxes. Last year the Town came up with way to make it fair to all residents on the mountain. It is true that at one time the amount paid by non-residents was disproportionate to the residents, but that is not the case any more. This is true for all the services on the mountain. If you question this, call Diana Campbell at the Town Hall. She is not only the town recorder but also the town treasurer.)

So this is why the meeting ended on a sad note. Who is the winner in this battle? Certainly not the children on this mountain. Why can’t the two Town’s come together on issues, for the sake of the whole mountain? The Mountain Education Fund is a good and noble project that benefits all children from the mountain. But it becomes very frightening when a few people have that much power over an entire board. Would the United Way Fund stop giving to a specific program if people threatened to stop giving because they didn’t approve of that program receiving funds from the United Way? I don’t think so. And I repeat – what about the children? Why do they have to suffer because in the long run, that’s what’s happening. If you care or have an opinion, come to the Signal Mountain Town Council meetings, the second Monday of each month at 7:00 PM and/or the Walden Town Meetings on the second Tuesday of each month at 7:00 PM.

(Footnote: Apparently there is a lot more to this issue than what was presented at the meeting. Hopefully a solution can be reached that will satisfy all parties involved.)

The meeting adjourned at 8:45 PM.
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