BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (June 20) — The Gleason City Board discussed the possibility of raising water and sewer rates, after hearing a report from the State Comptroller’s Office. Due to auditing issues, the board also grappled with problems associated with completing the city’s budget for fiscal year 2022-2023.
Because of budgetary shortfalls, board members brainstormed ways to increase local tax revenue. One of the topics for discussion involved on-premises beer consumption.
The board also heard department reports, as well as an update on TDEC funds regarding project planning, and building code enforcement. Additionally, aldermen considered making Juneteenth a holiday for city employees, and heard announcements concerning Gleason’s Downtown Summer Celebration and upcoming budgetary meetings.
FY 2022-2023 Budget
City Attorney Beau Pemberton informed the board, “Since we don’t have the budget ready at this time, you need the expertise of the State Comptroller’s office.”
Eric Spencer, finance consultant with MTAS, who is assisting the City of Gleason to prepare a budget, commented, “Our advice is to get the budget passed and adopted as soon as possible. There is a provision in the state statute and budget law 82 that allows for a continuation of the budget beyond the fiscal year’s previous fiscal appropriations. So, if you don’t have a budget in place by June 30, you would operate the budget based on 1/12th of the current fiscal year’s appropriations. The budget has to be published in the newspaper at least 10 days prior to the final reading. So, at this point, you’re looking at some time in July to get it passed.”
State Comptroller’s Office Advises Water Rate Increase
“Tonight, I have invited representatives of the Utilities Division of the State Comptroller’s Office,” Mayor Charles Anderson said. The mayor introduced Ross Colona, technical secretary to the utility boards, and Jean Suh, contract audit review manager.
Colona stated, in order for the City of Gleason’s water rates to cover the cost of providing water and sewer service for its citizens, a water rate increase may be necessary. He noted the city’s water and sewer department are required by law to be self-funded, and if the city fails to raise its rates, the State Comptroller’s Office will have no choice but to issue an order setting the rates.
During discussion of the issue, Mayor Anderson said, “I would like for them to explain our water account situation in the past and their recommendation for the future.”
Colona said, “A lot of what we do is predicated on what’s found in the audit. The lack of an audit makes it difficult for us to do things for the utility boards.
According to Colona, in 2018, the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts recommended the City of Gleason implement an automatic rate increase for either 3 percent or 4 percent, or whatever the consumer price index was at that time. “I don’t know if that was ever adopted or not. So, my recommendation is for all utilities to implement a rate increase. Because prices are going through the roof, and your costs are rising, so your rates can’t stay the same. If they do, you’ll end up in a huge financial hole that you can’t get out of. I’m here tonight explain the importance of these utility rates and ensure that you comply with state law, because it is illegal for these utilities to lose money. So it’s very important to stay on top of these rates, and perhaps consider an automatic rate increase to prevent the necessity of these rate studies. This would ensure that every couple of years, you are still aware of what is going on.
The mayor stated plans call for using TDEC funds for three major projects – to purchase electronic water meters; sewer rehab, as necessary all over town; and water tank maintenance.
“And I don’t think we’re going to be able to get all those done with the TDEC money that’s allotted to us. It’s $1.6 million. That’s a lot of money, but these kinds of projects are very expensive. One of these projects is going to fall under expense and be amortized in our water account. I just want to make sure when we commit to any of these projects, we have sufficient income to get the work done.”
Mayor Anderson said, “We don’t want to raise the water rates on our citizens unless we have to. We’re looking for your recommendation.”
Colona stated it will be difficult for him to give a recommendation at this time, because there is no audit. “But I do believe, based on what I see in 2018 a 2019 a rate increase is necessary. I advocate at least a small increase so you’ll have some cash flow until your audit come in.”
On-Premises Beer Consumption
Alderman Keith Radford said, “As all of you know, we’re having a shortfall in our budgets.” To help generate new revenue, he proposed allowing the sale and consumption of beer on the premises of local establishments, such as restaurants, and all of the funds be earmarked for the city’s park program.
“Nobody has said a word to me about this,” Radford said. “If we were to have someone who wants to open a restaurant and they’re holding back from coming to Gleason, because other towns already have an ordinance in place (allowing consumption of beer on their premises), approving such an ordinance could help attract new businesses to locate in Gleason. Or, someone might want to open a craft beer store and sell sandwiches. It’s just an idea. I’m open for any discussion. I’m just looking for ways to make Gleason a little more attractive. At nighttime the city’s dead. You’ve got to go to another town.”
Radford stressed that the ordinance would include all of the distance requirements between these businesses and churches and schools.
Pemberton said city’s code requires such businesses be no closer than 300 feet, measured from the property line of the business to the property line of churches, schools or playgrounds.
Mayor Anderson said, “It’s probably a long way off, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Small towns like Gleason struggle with their budgets. Local citizens go out of town to purchase what they can’t get in Gleason. Therefore, we support the budgets of other towns. We don’t say anything about driving to Jackson to eat out at Red Lobster or other restaurants that serve alcohol. Or even McKenzie.”
Alderman Radford said, “I’m just trying to lay the groundwork here, overcome the hurdle of getting that passed.
The mayor said, “I think it’s wise to address it now.”
Bradford said, Gleason may get some spin-off industry from the new Ford plant. “We’re going to have people looking to move to places and get things built, and they’re going to be looking at activities for the families.
Mayor Anderson said, “We’re just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg on that. There are small suppliers looking for small towns, and we want to be in the running for it.”
Pemberton stated if the board wishes for him to do so, he could put together a briefing and present it at the July board meeting. “Whether we need to amend the ordinance or draft a new ordinance, I can report back and tell you step-by-step what you’re going to have to do, should you choose to pursue it. That’s entirely up to the mayor and board.”
Mayor Anderson said, “I’m entirely in favor of moving forward with that. It’s an important issue, and I think it addresses our overall long-term revenue issues. But, it’s not going to happen overnight. It might never happen. We have a lot of people moving in from other states.” The mayor mentioned that a man from Wisconsin recently purchased property in Gleason. “They choose small town for reasons, but they would like to have some of the conveniences that other towns have. And you never know what ideas they’re going to bring with him. They might bring with them people that they know.”
Although board members stated they were not ready to approve an ordinance allowing the consumption of beer on the premises of local establishments at this time, they did vote to authorize a study regarding the issue, so they would have better information before making a decision.
Mayor Anderson said the Public Works Department, headed by Director Rodney Garner and his helpers have been really busy the last two or three weeks. They’ve had summer help from teenage workers helping out by mowing, weed eating, and pressure washing. “We have some painting to do, so we’ll get some work done with our summer teen help.”
Fire Chief Mark Stafford was out on a fire call and was not able to attend the meeting to give his report.
Parks and Recreation Director Brian Legons said, “This past Saturday, we wrapped up our summer program. We had Park Day. We sold barbecue plates and handed out all the trophies.
Mayor Anderson said, “The park look really good Saturday.”
According to the mayor, the disc golf course is moving from Huggins Park to Snyder Park, and the course is expanding. “We are going to have some wooden benches placed along the walking trail, that will be comfortable not only for the players but for the walkers to use also.”
In committee reports Mayor Anderson stated he has applied for another Tennessee Arts commission Grant for an artist to paint a mural on the exterior of a building facing City Hall providing they can come up with a suitable design. It will be on a 4-by-8-feet sheet of material attached to the brick wall.
Update on TDEC Funds and Project Planning
Under old business, the mayor stated projects are being pursued through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, to fund wastewater infrastructure improvements throughout downtown. “Our city engineer is going through state protocol to meet the requirements.”
Building Code Enforcement
Regarding building code enforcement involving repairing or demolishing dilapidated properties, Pemberton stated a contract has been signed to purchase the property located at 114 Vincent St. by another local landowner. He noted the title work and deed are in the process of being completed and transferred to the new owner, who has a demolition crew in place to tear down the building and level the site.
According to Pemberton, a structure at 303 Phelps St. is in the process of being sold to an individual, who plans on demolishing the structure.
Additionally, condemnation proceedings are moving forward on a property located at 500 College St.
At the board’s request, Mayor Anderson said he would have the city’s code enforcement officer investigate the condition of properties at 110 Irwin St. and another structure on East Grove Road.
Under new business, Mayor Anderson stated Juneteenth, which is observed on June 19, is a federal holiday and all federal offices were closed.
“I declared it to be a City Hall Day, but we haven’t voted on that yet” (to make it an annual holiday observed in Gleason).”
When the mayor asked Pemberton about the observance of Juneteenth, Pemberton said, although it’s federal holiday, it is not a state holiday; therefore, all state offices were open, as were all Weakley County offices, including the courts. However, Pemberton reported most local municipalities in Weakley County now celebrate Juneteenth and closed their city halls on Monday, to give city employees the day off.
Pemberton said it’s entirely up to the county or town to decide if they want to observe it as a holiday.
Mayor Anderson recommended the board approve Juneteenth as a holiday observed by the City of Gleason and for city hall to be closed on that date. However, there was no discussion on the subject and the proposal died for lack a motion.
The mayor said it might be a good idea to go through the city’s employee handbook to determine if there is another federal holiday the board might wish to consider making a local holiday.
Pemberton recommended studying the issue and bringing it back before the board for discussion, during the next regular board meeting or a special-called meeting. “But, no action is needed tonight.”
Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday. On June 17, 2021, it officially became a federal holiday.
Mayor Anderson announced Gleason’s Downtown Summer Celebration is 5-9 p.m. on Saturday, June 25. In addition to live music, the mayor announced there will also be a firework show. Michael Foster of Gleason is in charge of the fireworks show. “He’s a truck driver, but he does fireworks on the side,” Mayor Anderson said. “He has an electronic remote system he uses.” The fireworks will be set up next to the old steel plant. Fire Department will wet down the area to prevent fires. The fireworks show is expected last 35 to 40 minutes. The mayor stated the show will cost approximately $1,800. It will be funded by local donations, which are still being sought to help pay for the event.
Mayor Anderson stated Foster put on the fireworks show for Gleason last year, and he’s really looking forward to doing that again this year.
The mayor stated, by Gleason having its hometown event a week early, it will give people a chance to go to other places to celebrate the Fourth of July, if they so desire.
Mayor Anderson announced there will be another budget workshop for the board and department heads at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 27.