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published on 08/14/2001

August 2001 Signal Mountain Town Council Meeting

By staff writer

The regular meeting of the Town of Signal Mountain Town Council met Monday, August 13, 2001 at 7:00 P.M. Councilmembers Rachel Bryant, Steve Ruffin, and Billy Steele were present; also, Mayor Jim Althaus. Councilmember and Vice-mayor, Bob Steel was out of town. Town Manager, Hershel Dick, Town Recorder Diana Campbell, and Town Attorney, Joe Wagner were also present.

There were many residents in the audience as well as guests. Chris Clem, Tennessee State Representative for the Town of Signal Mountain district and William Parker, publisher of the Lookout Mountain Mirror and his daughter Lucia Rose, managing editor were also present. With them was Bob Anderson. The three were there to announce the formation of a new newspaper up here on the mountain, the Signal Mountain Mirror that will be published monthly and follow along the same guidelines and format as the Lookout Mountain Mirror.

Three important issues were discussed at this meeting. Many in the audience were residents of Olde Town who had come to the meeting, having heard a rumor that the water and sewer rates were going to be increased. However, the first business on the agenda was to approve the ordinance to adopt the property tax rate. According to Mayor Althaus, the Town did not get the final number from the county until late that afternoon so there was no time to publish the numbers. But the Councilmembers had met many times previously to discuss and make a budget and had projected the numbers needed to balance the budget. Approved at the first reading was to make the property tax rate $1.15, to adjust for the recent reappraisals by the County, with an additional 50 cent increase on top to balance the budget making the total new rate $1.65. This represents a 44% increase in the tax rate. Councilmember Steve Ruffin,although voting unanimously with the Town Council to present the budget, voted against it on the first reading after having second thoughts. The following statement was received from Steve Ruffin, "Please note that the reason I voted against the tax increase is because I feel that we have not communicated to the town effectively. The sewer user fee, combined with the proposed tax increase should be discussed with the town before implementation. I felt that a town hearing discussing proposed changes was in order. The water and sewer increase were moved to Monday's special town meeting because I asked the Mayor and he granted the request, not because the meeting ran late as you have stated."

According to Mayor Althaus, the Town of Signal Mountain is proud and glad that there are not many businesses in the Town, therefore money to support the services provided by the Town must be generated by property taxes, which have not been raised in 21 years.

The Mayor allowed the members of the audience to discuss the proposed tax increase and this discussion lasted over one and a half hours. Two conclusions came out of the discussion. One is that not raising the taxes in over 20 years is not something to be proud of but a sign of mismanagement and something to be ashamed of. The Town has been working from a deficit budget and eating up the reserve funds to balance the budget and is now paying the price for that decision. The second conclusion is that had the residents been more aware over the years that this was happening maybe things could have been put in place or alternative decisions could have been made to avoid such a high increase in taxes. A lack of communication between the Town (i.e.governement) and the residents of the Town is at issue. The Mayor and some members of the Council took offense to residents who don?t show up to announced meetings but then come to the one meeting where the decision is to be made and complain. On the other hand, a feeling of keeping things from the public is a perception that needs to be dealt with.

Hershel Dick, Town Manager, announced where notices of meetings are posted and the question was asked if the Town had a web site. (Editor?s note: I stood up at this point and reminded the Councilmembers and members of the audience that this web site has been posting ?minutes? of the meetings for months. We will also try to make every effort from this point on to post the dates of all meetings, including work sessions open to the public on our calendar.) The Mayor pointed out that it is the responsibility of the residents of the Town of Signal Mountain to keep up with what is going on in our Town.

In concluding the discussion of the property tax increase, the second reading for approval is scheduled for Monday, August 27, 2001 at 7:00 P.M. In the meantime, a meeting/forum/brainstorming session is scheduled for this coming Monday, August 20th for residents and Councilmembers to discuss the property tax increase and maybe come up with some solutions to the problems.

Before going back home to his wife and six-day old baby daughter, Chris Clem answered questions about the impact of the new state budget on our local budget and suggested anyone with questions to call him.

Because of the late time, the Council agreed to defer the resolution increasing the water and sewer rates until the meeting for the public hearing on August 27. However, residents of Olde Town were very concerned about the projected 10% increase in water and 150% increase in sewer rates, which affect only those residents who are on the sewer line. The Mayor pointed out that Hershel Dick for years has tried to get monies budgeted for repairs and upkeep of the sewer lines. Residents were under the impression that a portion of the fees collected for the sewers these past 30 years were going to maintenance but this is not what was happening and now our sewers will not be able to meet federal standards being imposed and in fact a fine of $10,000 a day will be charged if those standards are not met by the year 2003. So it seems that the 1000+ residents, plus Alexian Village will have to come up with the $5 million expected to pay for the repairs. This was the second very important issue discussed at tonight?s meeting.

Several other resolutions were passed including one adopting a policy for the use and monitoring of E-mail, one on adopting a policy for the use of computers and network, and one authorizing the Town Manager to close a pension reserve account with Provident National Assurance. (The Town is now with a Tennessee state pension plan.)

The third important issue discussed was the ordinance to amend the Beer Ordinance. Town Assistant Attorney, Phil Noblett presented the Councilmembers an ordinance he drafted as requested at the last Town Council meeting, using the city of Chattanooga as an example. By following the examples already in place in the city of Chattanooga, the Town of Signal Mountain would be permitting more than what some of the Councilmembers were willing to permit. Since both Mr. Piccolo and Mr. Woodcock, representing their mutual restaurants had not seen a copy of the ordinance change before the meeting, they were not able to address the issues brought up by Councilmembers. Therefore, they asked the Council to vote on what Mr. Noblett had presented and it did not pass. Councilmember Rachel Bryant wanted a clearer ordinance that fit our town and the intent better and Councilmember Billy Steel said that he misunderstood the owners intent to sell beer and did not approve of that although he said he was perfectly happy bringing wine into either restaurant as he has done in the past. A decision was made to bring back to the Council a clearer more concise ordinance change at the September 10 Council meeting. Mr. Woodcock reminded the members of the Council that part of the reason why Signal Mountain does not have more restaurants like the Pastaria and Top of the Mountain is because it is very hard to make a living by selling food only. He also pointed out that some of the revenue from taxes from the sale of the beer would come back to the town. Since a change in an ordinance takes passing two readings with a public hearing in between, it will be a while before this issue is resolved.

Under new business the Councilmembers were given an opportunity to address the Council. Rachel Bryant mentioned the upkeep of the Town Hall and Mayor Althaus mentioned a meeting he has with Hamilton County Sheriff Cupp and other members of the communities who benefit from the Resource Officer at Red Bank High School. A solution to continue funding this officer will be determined. It could cost the Town of Signal Mountain somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000 a year to do this. There are approximately 100 students that are residents of the Town of Signal Mountain while there are an additional 150 with a 37377 zip code who attend Red Bank High.

The meeting adjourned somewhere around 10:00 P.M.

P.S. If you want details of the budget process and numbers used by the Councilmembers to determine the budget, you may get one at the Town Hall.

To contact the Town of Signal Mountain .

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