Hillsboro Council Amends Water/Sewer Ordinance

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Procrastinators who delay paying their water/sewer bills until the last possible moment are the target of a to be amended city code section to be written by attorney Kit Hantla at the direction of the Hillsboro City Council as they met Tuesday evening, Sept. 28; Finance Commissioner Katie Duncan was not present.

Kendra Wright, Public Utilities Commissioner, suggested amendments because 178 customer names were on the list of those whose payments are 60 days overdue and thus subject to a pay-or-your-water-will-be-shut-off notice. Wright said of the list 10 to 12 people per month will have that action happen. She also said the fees to do the procedure haven’t been changed since 1988, when labor costs were less; she also emphasized the changes aren’t targeted at customers who don’t have the money to pay.

The following changes will be in the amended ordinances: late fees will increase from 10 percent to 15 percent of the bill amount; the term or $100 that was attached to the definition of past due will be removed; the current fees of $20) assessed to both disconnect from and reconnect to the system will be doubled (except in cases when a building/home changes hands, when it will stay at $20, (the changes target late payers, not non-delinquent payers); and the section which calls for denial of water to offenders who are 60 days late twice in one calendar year will be removed because of tracking issues for the city.

Other problems exist within the system. Mayor Don Downs said there are still situations, as in apartment houses, where one shut-off valve serves more than one apartment. In that situation, the city can’t turn off the water because one user doesn’t pay. Still, the council felt making the changes outlined in the preceding paragraph is a step in the right direction to slow down what Wright termed “...the bleeding of money from the Water Department.” The original fees were based on the cost of overtime needed to turn off the water, and employees make more now than they did in the ‘80s.

Wright said she has other ideas after looking at the city codes, so she’ll suggest more changes in future meetings; in line with that, the council agreed to review and update the employee handbook. For instance, the current version doesn’t include job descriptions. In other utility action, the council agreed to hire Angela Holcomb to replace Jen Weiss as water clerk. Weiss will resign once Holcomb is trained. All votes during the meeting were 4-0.

The other lengthy discussion during the meeting resulted in a tabled motion. The Chamber of Commerce, represented by Katelyn Fath, asked to have Main Street from Wood Street to Courthouse Square closed from 12 to 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 29 for the chamber’s Trick or Treat Trail. It will be the ninth year for the event. Mayor Downs said he receives complaints from business interests on Main Street every time streets are closed; cars then can’t park in that two-block section, so events planned to bring customers to town limit access to the stores.

Fath said she would worry about the safety of the kids uptown that day if they had to contend with traffic as they crossed the street. Too, street traffic mixed with the parade at the end of the activity could be problematic. Police Chief Randy Leetham said it might help if there were only one parade per season, but sponsoring groups aren’t always co-operative. Fath said she has approached the others, but they want their parade on Halloween Day. Fath offered to poll Chamber members involved to see if the street closure would be a problem for them after Public Properties/Parks and Street Commissioner Dan Robbins suggested waiting till the next council meeting (Oct. 12) to decide about the closure.

The section of Welch Street from Route 16 east to the city park has been closed since the five-inch rain two weeks ago because the concrete box culvert disintegrated. On the recommendation of Street Superintendent Justin Chappelear, the council agreed to purchase a 72” diameter, 12 gauge culvert for $9,970.40; it was cheaper than the other three options, and Chappelear said it has a 100 year+ guarantee. Once it’s installed, the street will be reopened.

The other agenda items were more routine. The annual lease payment for the South Marina was set at $26,400. Dunham Independent, Inc., will collect $11,000 for administering the HUD grant over the past two years.

Communications for public safety workers will improve soon because the council agreed to spend $8,525 for a phone and radio recording system for the police and fire departments and city hall. Calls made to dispatch services will be recorded; Leetham said the update was necessary to comply with regulations. Representing the Auxiliary Police, Mike Lee said the analogue system they currently have is so outdated that parts can only be obtained on e-bay, and they are scarce there. The cost of the new system, which the council approved, is $19,586.

Trick-or-Treat hours in the city will be from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 30 and 31. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Murphy reminded parents that their children ought not ring doorbells if a porch light isn’t on.

Robbins began the commissioners’ reports segment; he reported 3,333 six to eight inch large mouth bass were purchased from Herman Brothers Fisheries and released into Glenn Shoals Lake. Materials have been ordered for roof work at the Fireman’s Clubhouse, and grass seed was planted on the newly graded slopes at Central Park.

The Street Department has finished oil and chip work on the streets for the summer. Pothole patching continues; sidewalk work continues on East Summer Street, and two stop signs were replaced on East Brailly and East Street. Workers also removed the dead raccoon that didn’t make it across E. Water Street.

Murphy said he was disturbed about the profanity on a few signs around town. He recognizes it’s a free speech issue, but he suggested that citizens show respect to each other and to keep in mind the effect that profane signs have on neighbors. He challenged those who put up signs that the majority find objectionable to “Take the garbage down, put it in the trash, buy an American flag to replace the obscene signs, and come forth. Join Imagine Hillsboro or another civic organization; become involved in bettering the community. You may have the right to be vulgar, but not to be a vulgarian.”

He said the council has a responsibility to set a tone in the community, but so do all residents. “You are a banner to the community, so act like it.”

He also asked that residents not use city-owned dumpsters for their own household trash. He complimented Lee, who as code enforcement officer brought two parties together; one sold his house on Water Street to the other, who will have the present dwelling pulled down in order to build a garage with an apartment above it.

Wright said that water quality is normal, and that fire hydrant flushing (an annual process) began last week. The price of chemicals for the water plant keeps rising. The Hickory Street lift station was plugged again; workers found three child-size socks causing the problem, but other fiber was found in the pump too. She expects a progress report on sewer plant plans within a couple of months, and she reminded customers that the convenience of paying water/sewer bills online is now available.

Mayor Downs said a sewer cost/price for service study is underway by an independent consultant, and he expects sewer costs to rise when the study is complete, especially because of the expense involved with repairing the lift station pumps when non-flushable items (like socks) are flushed and clog the pumps. Thus far this year he said the cost to deal with that problem is over $6,000 just to pull the pumps.

Yard sale signs that are not removed once the sale is over have become an issue again; an ordinance is on the books, but no fines are mentioned so that ordinance may be revisited soon. Downs said leaving signs up for days after the sale is over should be treated as if it is littering.

He reported that the Hillsboro Planning Commission recommends using funds that became available through grants or government programs to improve the aging utility systems uptown; he hopes that recommendations will be followed. Lee responded to questions about the Corner Block Building (the court hearing is scheduled for Oct. 7) and the burned out building immediately north of the Orpheum (Lee was to meet with those owners on Sept. 29). Steve Huber was present to discuss plans for the west side of the World Harvest Church; he has personally removed bricks loose enough to drop onto the sidewalk or highway, and he’s approached masonry contractors to obtain a price to do the necessary work. He hopes to have a block wall built to support the brick wall, and he has secured volunteers to help, but nothing is imminent.

Downs reminded those in attendance of Imagine Hillsboro’s Fall Festival scheduled for this Saturday, Oct. 2. It includes a Monster Build sponsored by Atlas 46.

Community Planner Jonathan Weyer said the initial meeting of a Mental Health Summit will be Monday, Nov. 8, for invited community leaders, with a meeting for the general public to come later. He said the Safe Routes to School grant application needs only signatures before submission.

Dr. David Lett will be at the next council meeting (Tuesday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m. in city hall) to discuss the proposed job training center to be established in Litchfield to serve those in a multi-county area who need vocational training.

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