The People’s Business – 1/14/13 Oak Ridge City Council Meeting Summary

The following represents an unofficial account of the items voted upon last night. Full video of the meeting can be viewed here. Draft meeting minutes will be posted at the city website as part of the February Regular Meeting Agenda packet.

VI. Special Reports

Presentation and public meeting to provide information concerning the City of Oak Ridge’s application for a Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF).

Note: This was part of the process to apply for $18 million in loans discussed here. Though no vote was scheduled, I did make a motion which was preceded by the comments provided below *

VIII. Resolutions – Both unanimously approved

  1. Apply/accept  for TDEC grant for Clean TN Energy Program $250,000 with 60% local match  Note: This is a resubmittal for higher efficiency lighting grant that we did not get last year.
  2. Adopt state and federal legislative agenda for 2013

IX. Public Hearings & First Reading of Ordinances

Failed with Miller, Baughn & Garcia Garland voting in favor and Hensley, Hope, Mosby and Beehan voting against

Amend use designation of a parcel in Hendrix Creek.

XI. Elections/Appointments, Announcements and Scheduling

  1. Elections/Appointments
    1. YAB Screening Panel: Chuck Hope by unanimous vote
    2. EPA Committee: Hope, Mosby, Hensley and Garcia Garland by unanimous vote
    3. Anderson County Development Corp: Hensley and Dunlap. Baughn against and Garcia Garland abstained. All others voted yes.
    4. Anderson County Tourism Council: Garcia Garland by unanimous vote
    5. OR Municipal Planning Commission – Domm by unanimous vote
    6. Highland View Redevelopment Board: Beehan self appointed
    7. Oak ridge Economic Partnership: Miller by mayoral appointment
    8. City Attorney’s Evaluation Committee: Garcia Garland to chair, Baughn and Mosby by unanimous vote
    9. City Manager’s Evaluation Committee: Hope, Hensley and Miller by unanimous vote

 *My comments and motion with regards to the Special Report

While I appreciate the need for clean water, we are dealing with not only a matter of affordability, but also of public trust. I have reviewed substantial documentation, news articles and meeting video footage from the past 15 months.

  1. The stated intent of the negotiations with DOE last year was to have DOE share the burden of increased rates.  As Mr.Watson and Mr. Krushenski both stated in the Sept 10, 2012 meeting, that we were negotiating the city into the role of “regulators of our customers.”  The expectation was that the city would be able to regulate higher rates – council even discussed the hopes of getting back payments” with Ms. Smith asking staff to pursue it even if DOE would balk. After all of that, even though our residents and citizens have seen their rates rise twice, DOE rates remain flat.
  2. Prior to the initial bills going out with the first rate increase, council and the public were reassured that the impact would be minimal. However, that was not the case for many businesses, some who were facing over 100% increases. Thus, the rates were readjusted to be phased in over an extended timeframe.
  3. The total dollar amounts needed to meet the mandate continue to fluctuate. To date, no Total Cost Estimate has been provided. The estimate for the remediation portion alone has gone from $19M to $23 M to  $30M to $35M. There has been no accounting for interest, the 10 employees or the amount expected of some 1,400 residents who significantly failed the smoke test and will likely have to pay out of their own pockets for repairs.
  4. Both council and the public were led to believe that an initial meeting with EPA was to have occurred by now. It took less than 2 weeks to get on their calendar for next month. Why wasn’t this accomplished last September since, during the Sept 10 2012 meeting, Mr. Watson confirmed we were in a position to do so when he said “now that we have a schedule, data, costs, etc. we can schedule a meeting to negotiate with EPA”
  5. And what is most troublesome to me is the fact that the city blamed the rate increases on the EPA mandate when in fact, much of the debt that was covered by the rate increases, more than $4 million of it, had NOTHING to do with the EPA.   The Oak Ridger    Apr. 18, 2012 6:16 pm: Oak Ridge City Council approved the rate increase for water and sewer customers by a unanimous vote during a special-called meeting on Monday. The rate increase comes after months of discussion, a rate study and recommendations, but the bottom-line reason for the rate increase is because of an Environmental Protection Agency mandate.

We have no credibility with the public. It is absurd to expect them to believe that we may not spend the entire $18M. It is also absurd to expect the EPA to acquiesce when our primary defense (a lack of funding) is negated by the fact that we have obtained an $18M Line of Credit.

Our community cannot afford additional rate hikes. They do not have unlimited income and we do not have the right to continue to force them to pay for our city’s past mistakes.

I move that council direct the city manager to immediately cease pursuit of these loans and instead direct him to ensure that all appeals to both the EPA and DOE have been exhausted before committing any further funding toward these projects. Additionally, council should direct him to seek alternative funding solutions that do not further obligate our rate payers, increase our debt or increase our tax rates.

The motion was not seconded and thus died without further discussion.

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3 thoughts on “The People’s Business – 1/14/13 Oak Ridge City Council Meeting Summary

  1. Re: community development: I am
    interested in knowing what that fund is used for. I would have serious reservations about cutting funds for parks and recreation and the library, as I think these are lifestyle areas that contribute to quality of life and also appeal to potential newcomers.
    You present some interesting facts and figures. I would be interested in hearing more discussion.
    Thank you for our diligence re: financial matters.
    Lucky Vogt

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