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published on 08/28/2001

Signal Mountain Town Council Special Meeting

By staff writer

The Town of Signal Mountain Council Special Meeting, Monday, August 27, 2001, 7:00 P.M., Town Hall

Present at this Special Meeting were Councilmembers Rachel Bryant and Steve Ruffin, Vice-mayor and Councilmember Bob Steel, and Mayor Jim Althaus. Councilmember Billy Steele was absent due to knee replacement surgery. Also present were Town Attorney Joe Wagner, Town Recorder/Treasurer Diana Campbell, and Town Manager Hershel Dick.

After roll call, Mayor Althaus called the meeting to order. He explained the order of business and protocol for the meeting, asking everyone to identify themselves before making a statement. The formal Special Meeting was closed so that we could go into a Public Hearing to discuss the 2001 Tax Increase.

At this point, various citizens raised questions concerning the proposed tax increase as well as offering alternative solutions to raising the tax. The majority of the residents in attendance had not been present at the two previous meetings where many of these questions had been asked and answered so for those in the audience who had heard it all before, it became pretty repetitive. The Public Hearing gave the citizens a chance to voice their opinion and express their unhappiness over the tax increase, in most cases. One question asked: ?What kind of shape will the town be in five years from now?? was a valid question, according Mayor Althaus. ?Because of the Town?s very narrow tax base and very little potential of growth, things are going to happen if something isn?t done to correct the state of affairs that our town is in.? This tax increase may not be sufficient even four years from now, especially if the State cuts funds to the county municipalities.

Mayor Althaus closed the Public Hearing so the Councilmembers could vote on the ordinance on the tax increase. The motion to raise the 2001 Property Tax Increase passed unanimously by the Town Council. The mayor then gave a personal history of the Town of Signal Mountain?s form of government praising the decision of the former Commission form of government changing to the Town Manager/Councilmember form of government. The three other Councilmembers each addressed the audience expressing their feelings about the property tax increase.

The next order of business on the Agenda was to amend the beer ordinance. However, Mayor Althaus announced that Assistant Town Attorney, Phil Noblett, had just given them the revised changes, which Mr. Woodcock and Mr. Piccolo, both in the audience had not seen. Because he wanted everyone, including the Councilmembers, to have time to read the changes, he deferred the discussion on amending the beer ordinance until the regular scheduled Town Council meeting, September 10th.

A Resolution to raise the water rates 10% and the sewer rates 150% was approved. A resolution only takes one reading, not two like an ordinance change. Between the motion to approve the rate increase and the vote, Mayor Althaus allowed members in the audience to ask questions and discuss the issue. Once again, many of the people in attendance were not present at the last two meetings and asked questions, which had been asked and answered before. The Resolution was passed three to one, with Councilmember Steve Ruffin voting no the sewer tax increase.

Because this Special Meeting was a formal one, citizens were not as emotional as in the previous informal meeting. However, feelings expressed by several citizens on the many issues raised throughout this whole process, including the Signal Mountain Golf and Country Club contract, the sewer vs septic impact, distress over higher taxes in general, and private management of the Town?s sewers were discussed. With several television stations taping the session and reporters in the audience, everyone seemed to be on good behavior.

Mayor Althaus closed the meeting by trying to explain how all this happened using the ?bull?s-eye? method of explanation. By that, I mean he drew the eye, said here is where we are now, then he drew the rings around the eye saying this is why we did it. It seems that when the former Town Manager left Signal Mountain, he took with him the knowledge he held in running the town. According to Mayor Althaus, it was all in Mr. Sonnenburg?s head and not written down so there was no documentation to fall back on. The Town was in bad shape and changes had to be made. Reorganizing the staff, hiring a town recorder/treasurer, hiring a town engineer, and finally hiring a town manager who could work well with the council was all necessary. It is the Mayor?s opinion that with Hershel Dick?s experience, background and history with the Town of Signal Mountain and his willingness to lead the department heads and relate back to the Councilmembers the issues raised by the department heads, many of the problems that have plagued the Town previously will no longer be an issue.

The meeting adjourned around 9:15 PM.

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