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published on 06/11/2003

Signal Mountain Town Council Passes Budget

By staff writer

On Monday, June 9, 2003, at 7pm, Mayor Jim Althaus called the regularly scheduled meeting of the Signal Mountain Town Council to order and asked Councilmember Rachel Bryant to open with prayer. Town recorder, Diana Campbell called roll. In addition to the Mayor and Councilmember Bryant, Vice-mayor and Councilmember Bill Leonard and Councilmembers Steve Ruffin and Robert White also responded to roll call. Also present were town attorney Phil Noblett, town manager Hershel Dick, and secretary of the Planning Commission Lou Oliphant. There were approximately seventeen people in the audience.

Minutes of the May 12th regular meeting, May 17th special called meeting and budget work session, May 23rd budget work session and May 24th special called meeting and budget work session were approved as corrected. Mayor Althaus pointed out that this year’s budget work sessions were in his opinion, “The best in format, participation, and debate; excellent sessions,” and gave thanks and congratulations to everybody who participated. “The Town is a beneficiary of a lot of hard work.”

There were three RESOLUTIONS presented at the meeting. The first renewed the appointments of members to the Town of Signal Mountain’s Design Review Commission. Current members, Warren Dropkin, Karna Levitt, Don Moon, Cheryl Graham, George Kangles, John D. Curry, and William Wilkerson all had terms that needed to be updated. Now that town recorder, Diana Campbell, has a system to check this, terms in the future will be renewed or appointed in a timely fashion. Vice-mayor Leonard suggested that in the future a bio on citizens being appointed to any of the boards, committees, or commissions be available before the Council approves their appointment. A general discussion followed that membership on a certain committee or board can mean a life membership. There is some confusion as to who suggests the potential member, the current committee, Town Council, or volunteers from the community?

The second RESOLUTION presented at the meeting authorized the town manager and/or mayor to enter into and renew a contract for medical insurance for employees of the Town of Signal Mountain with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee. The new contract will show a 10.9% increase in premiums, however both the Town and the employees will continue to pay the same percentage as they did previously. Councilmember White praised town manager Hershel Dick for doing such a good job getting this contract to which other members of the Council concurred.

The final RESOLUTION presented was in fact two RESOLUTIONS presented by town attorney Phil Noblett. These two RESOLUTIONS pertained to the refinancing of the Town’s loans, notes, and bonds. After negotiating with several banks, who according to Mayor Althaus, were actually competing for the Town’s business, the one with the best rate, the Tennessee Municipal League Pool (TML Pool) came in at 2.7 %. One RESOLUTION pertained to the water revenue and tax-refunding bond and the other pertained to the refunding of the capital outlay notes. Details on these two RESOLUTIONS are available at the Town Hall.

All four RESOLUTIONS passed unanimously by the Town Council.

Key to this night’s meeting was the passage of three ORDINANCES. An ORDINANCE to establish a revised occupational safety and health program for the Town of Signal Mountain, revise rules and regulations, and to provide for a director and the implementation of such a program passed on a second reading. Ordered by the State of Tennessee to implement such a program, town manager Hershel Dick will oversee the program, which the Town had in place but needed to update according to state law.

The second ORDINANCE amended the current 2 Budget to reflect the changes resulting from the refinancing of the loans, notes, and bonds. Now that the Town’s sewers are managed by the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority the Sewer Fund no longer exists. Therefore funds collected for fees from residents with sewers are being transferred over to the Town’s general fund account. When asked by resident, Mark Shartle, if this was legal, Mayor Althaus responded by saying he expected that question. Since residents with sewers were the only ones paying the fees, the mayor said there was no way to figure out who paid what and return the money. Attorney Phil Noblett added that once the sewer fund no longer existed, the funds were technically “surplus funds” and it was legal to put them in the general fund. Later in the meeting Mayor Althaus pointed out that in the new proposed 2 Budget a portion of the $209,447.00 being transferred to the general fund will go directly to the renovation of the playground/park behind the Signal Mountain Golf and Country Club. The Mayor pointed out that getting this money was a one-time deal and since it was a “gift” of sorts that was unexpected, it should be used to benefit the entire community and not be used to “pay bills or day-to-day running of the Town. ”

Finally, an ORDINANCE to provide revenue for the Town of Signal Mountain, known as the FY 2 Budget and fixing the rate of tax on all taxable property within the town including details pertaining to the tax rate was presented. It was clear that the proposed budget came in lean with all department heads involved in the process, making a concerted effort to be good stewards of the Town’s money. There will be no tax increase. Money is still being set aside for the future fire sub-station. When asked how the Town was able to make up the differences from the cuts by the State, the Mayor responded by saying he had worked hard emailing state legislatures asking them to not eliminate the Hall Tax. He feels certain Sen. David Fowler and Rep. Chris Clem were responsible for the cut being only 9% which accounts for a loss of somewhere between $105 and $180 thousand dollars, according to town recorder Diana Campbell. The Town also made a conscious effort to eliminate or cut back in giving to charities but encouraged citizens to support all the worthy projects in and around our community. (Note: A copy of the FY 2 Budget is available at the Town Hall or on the Signal Mountain Community web site

Both of the last two ORDINANCES passed on the first reading. Second readings will be held at a special called meeting and public hearing on Monday, June 23, 2003 at 7:00 PM at the Town Hall.

Included in the audience were a group of concerned citizens. Elected to speak for the group, Coughlin Cooper addressed the Council. She and the others represented a larger group of residents concerned about the future of the playground behind the Club and want to volunteer to have input into what is done and actually help in making the changes. This led to an extensive discussion. The Mayor praised the group for their effort but pointed out that a playground committee had worked long and hard to come up with a plan and that it was that plan that was voted on at the last meeting and the money ear-marked for the playground was based on that plan. However, he also pointed out that it would disappoint him greatly if the current Playground Committee was not open to suggestions by this group of citizens. In the end, the Town Council agreed by general consent to appoint three of these citizens to the Playground Committee, two present at the meeting Coughlin Cooper and Jock Dunbar volunteered and said they would find a third person and get with Scott Cook, Recreation Director. Jason Farmer, newest member of the Recreation Board, present at the meeting encouraged the Town Council to listen to these citizens as he has rarely seen such enthusiastic people and hoped the Town would not discourage them. Councilmember Robert White pointed out that what the Town needed was a strategic master plan which he hoped would be forth coming.

A general discussion followed that concerned problems the Town is having with vandalism at the ball fields (mostly by parents not properly supervising their children) and/or possibly kids or teenagers at night. The Council agreed that some sort of general effort should be made throughout the community to educate everyone, especially the children, on the destruction of vandalism. “Find some way to show community pride.”

Under new business, Councilmember Robert White thanked the group of residents who attended the meeting encouraging them to pass the word to other residents of the benefits of attending a meeting. Mayor Althaus questioned attorney Phil Noblett on the latest problem with the Tabb property. According to Mr. Noblett, a title search is in process to see if the letter the Town received warning them that Mr. James gave that property to the Town of Signal Mountain with the stipulation that it remain the Town’s and that it should never have been sold in the first place. The Mayor also pointed out that town manager Hershel Dick is facing some serious medical problems. Vice-mayor and Councilmember Bill Leonard also thanked the group of concerned citizens for coming to the meeting and praised the “regulars” who attend every meeting each month. Hershel responded to the Mayor’s comment about his health with saying he would accept prayers as he is going in for tests on his heart.

The meeting adjourned at 8:35 PM.

Department head meetings are each Monday at 9:00 AM in the Town Hall Conference Room. The public is invited.
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