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published on 02/12/2002

February Town Council Meeting

By staff writer

The Town of Signal Mountain Council met Monday, February 11 at 7:00 PM with barely a quorum present. Both Councilmembers Steele and Ruffin were out of town and unable to attend the meeting.

Also present at the meeting were Town Attorney Phil Noblett, Town Manager Hershel Dick, and Town Recorder Diana Cambell.

The meeting was opened with prayer by Vice-mayor and Councilmember Bob Steel. Mayor Althaus welcomed the members of Boy Scout Troop 116 led by Scoutmaster Bill Leonard and members of Troop 60 led by Scoutmaster John Glass all of whom were in the audience.

The minutes of the January 14 Town Council Meeting were approved as written.

There were three resolutions presented to the Council for approval tonight. The first was one to authorize the Town Manager, Hershel Dick to pay $5,000 for architectural fees to Wayne Caughman. The designs are for additions and improvements to the Town Hall. Currently, there is $75,000 in the Town Budget for such improvements which will more than likely not be enough for everything that is needed. Councilmember Rachel Bryant expressed concern over this and Mayor Althaus said that even though he wasn't going to be around, the other Councilmembers needed to begin thinking about increasing next year's budget to include the cost of these improvements. Councilmember Bob Steel added that Wayne Caughman was an excellent architect with a sense of humor.

The second resolution presented was concerning adopting an Emergency Aid Agreement. Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, mutual aid emergency agreements have been put into place between municipalities in the County. This particular agreement concerns public works. If a disaster or attack should take place, municipalities can share materials and manpower with provisions included in the agreement to reimburse the municipalities that make the loans.

The final resolution presented authorized the Town Manager, Hershel Dick to contract with BellSouth for the Townís telephone service. According to Mr. Dick, after making many calls and shopping around for the right and most affordable service Bell South offered a 14% reduction in costs and only locks the Town into an 18 month commitment. The company the Town used for its Internet connection went bankrupt and so the Town was without Internet service for several weeks. Getting a DSL connection for the computers will make things much easier for communication for the Town.

All three of the Resolutions were approved.

The first reading of an ordinance to adopt an updated Municipal Code was approved. The Municipal Code is kept in Nashville and there have many ordinance changes in the Town of Signal Mountain this past year therefore the manual needed to be updated. Adopting this Municipal Code incorporates all the changes, according to Town Attorney, Phil Noblett.

During the opportunity for citizens to speak, Mayor Althaus introduced Anne Marshall a consultant for the Parks and Recreation Technical Advisory Services, a Tennessee agency that offers many types of support to local municipalities. Some time last year, Mayor Althaus and Recreation Department Head, Scott Cook, (who was also in the audience), requested the service of this agency. Ms Marshall was here tonight to present the manual. She and her committee spent much time looking at the Town of Signal Mountainís recreation facilities, organization and administration of the recreation department, and the current policies concerning fees for residents and non-residents.

Unfortunately, the Councilmembers were given this report during the meeting without previous notice. It should have first been presented to the Recreation Board before being brought to the Councilís attention and especially the publicís. Councilmember Rachel Bryant pointed this out and suggested Scott Cook and the Recreation Board look at it first and then come back to the Council. According to Ms Marshall, when asked if there were any glaring problems that needed fixing now, she pointed out the dangerous playground equipment.

There were other items she discussed which were positive and negative to what is in place currently. She pointed out that the Council is under no obligation to make any of the changes or recommendations her advisory committee presented. She praised the volunteer network that the Recreation Board functions from, but recommends a paid full-time director instead of using volunteers. She also recommended the Town look into why it is charging a different fee for non-residents (which is common in most municipalities, she noted), but the question the Town needs to ask is if the fee is justified? Are we in the business of making money from the non-residents or charging just enough to cover the cost of the program? Since this is such a sensitive issue, the advisory spent some time addressing it in the manual. Councilmember Rachel Bryant pointed out that $19,000 should have been collected last year from non-resident fees, however only $2,200 were actually collected.

After much discussion, the Council agreed to give the manual to Scott Cook and the recreation board to read and come back to the Council for either work sessions with the Councilís input or to make actual recommendations to the Town Council. The Mayor thanked Ms Marshall for all her work and said the Town would be in touch with the Advisory Service at a later date.

Bids were taken by the Town to replace the water storage tank at the pump station. The highest bid was for $239,000 and the lowest for $12,930 by Marion Environmental Company. Although the members of the Council questioned the vast discrepancy between the two bids, the low bid was agreed upon.

Under new business the Councilmembers were given an opportunity to speak. Councilmember Rachel Bryant asked about permission for putting up a sign at the top of the mountain. Hershel Dick said to call Jane Wilson at the Town Hall who coordinates the posting of signs on the stand. Rachel also suggested the since it was getting close to preparing next yearís budget, the cost of the Townís health insurance should be checked into.

Councilmember Bob Steel responded to the discussion on the agenda concerning the Town Building Inspector, Bill Wagner, issuing citations to citizens who are not meeting the Town codes. He reminded members of the audience that for as long as he has been on the Town Council, he has been trying to get residents who abuse the codes by not maintaining their property to become responsible.

Town Attorney, Phil Noblett, brought to the Councilmembersí attention two issues. The first concerned an issue that Judge Bob Moon pointed out to Mr. Noblett. This concerns a small provision in the status of town judges. It seems that if a county increased its population by a certain size then local municipalities would no longer be able to try in their local courts DUI and revoked licenses cases, therefore not receiving any revenues from the fines issued in these cases. Two state legislators (Ward & Crutchfield) are trying to get a new law passed to up the population number, but the problem will still be there if Hamilton County increases to that mark. The Town Council approved by general consent to let Mr. Noblett pursue this issue by supporting Red Bankís suggestion that the bill being written to omit any tie with the population. Councilmember Rachel Bryant wondered if the Sessions Court even wanted the municipalityís citations for DUI and revoked licenses, which everyone agreed.

The second issue which Mr. Noblett presented was the suggestion that Town Inspector Bill Wagner be given the authority to cite residents who are abusing the codes that the Town of Signal Mountain has in place as to how a resident must maintain a home and property. Currently, he can report to the Police who in turn must issue the citation. Allowing Mr. Wagner to have this authority will help the Town maintain records and follow-up on citations. Both Chief Eddings of the Police Department and Mr. Wagner agreed that this would be an ideal situation. Mr. Noblett suggested that the proper course of action would be to make the suggestion a resolution at which the Councilmembers voted unanimously to make this a resolution.

Mr. Noblett also noted that the Tabb Family and CVS are still trying to negotiate with the Town for the use of the property in question. Because of client/attorney privilege, Mr. Noblett did not want to go into detail on the progress.

Town Recorder Diana Campbell reported the final item discussed. She reported that she had summed up all the proposals from Tennessee American and sent it to them to make sure everything she had written was correct and that nothing had been omitted. They responded by refusing to respond. Councilmember Steel and Mayor Althaus agreed with Town Manager Hershel Dickís suggestion to reject Tennessee Americanís proposal. Doing so would have put them in the position of making the next move. However, Councilmember Rachel Bryant wanted the proposal to be tabled to send the message to Tennessee American that the Town would be willing to wait until they are ready to respond. The Council voted to table the matter at which the Mayor pointed out that if and when Tennessee American did respond to Ms Campbellís letter, it could not be discussed until the first proposal (now tabled) was voted upon. This according to Robertís Rules of Order.

The meeting adjourned at 8:30 PM.

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