Tempers flare and gloves come off during Petersburg’s Mayor and Aldermen meeting,Additional water rate increase needed to bring town into compliance

As soon as the prayer, pledge of allegiance to the flag, roll call and approval of minutes were marked off the agenda at last week’s Petersburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, the gloves came off and tempers flared during the Citizens Input portion of the hour-long meeting where a few residents came with their own agenda involving “divisive, bullying and vindictive Facebook posts” they claimed involved resident Corey Smith.

The fireworks started as soon as Smith, a Write-in Candidate for one of three aldermen’s seats, went to the podium and asked board members if they recognize the Tennessee Little Hatch Act. When there was no response from the board, Smith then asked, “Do you know what it is and do you recognize it?”

Without acknowledging the questions, Mayor Logan Jolly reminded Smith he had used one of his three allocated minutes.

Tennessee’s Little Hatch Act is designed “to prohibit political intimidation or coercion of or by a public officer or employee, and includes all elections: local, municipal, primary, general, state, federal and special and any election in the state or any county, municipality or other political subdivision thereof, but does not include referenda or issues submitted to a vote of the people, political convention or caucus, according to Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-19-202(b).” According to Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), examples of employees, in part, “who are commonly covered by the Hatch Act include city clerks, including deputy clerks and possible city recorders.”

Smith then asked the board if John Hula was employed by the town of Petersburg. Administrative Clerk Lois McNeese answered that she is John Hula, referring to her Facebook page listed under that name that shows numerous exchanges between her and Smith that involves name calling and animosity, similar to poking a stick at a hornet’s nest coming from both sides. A similar exchange broke loose between the two over the reference to the Act and McNeese’s Facebook posts supposedly during normal working hours.

After Smith’s time was up, Michelle Talley, non-resident Larry Richardson and Nancy McDonald accused Smith of “bullying, causing division, being vindictive, belittling former Mayor Kenneth Richardson, who died in May,” and being the “self-proclaimed town crier.”

Audrey Richardson addressed her comments toward a city employee she claimed was rude to her when she paid her water bill at the drive-thru. “I work with people and I know that’s not the way you treat customers,” she shared. When McNeese asked her who the employee was, Richardson named Carla Stovall.

Under new business, Mayor Logan Jolly asked the board to refer to the paperwork received from Tennessee Utility Assistance (TUA) on its directives of the Water and Wastewater Financing Board (WWFB) that laid out six recommendations – including rate increases – for the town to bring it into compliance with the WWFB’s order.

The Petersburg Water Department has lost money, after depreciation, for two consecutive years and was flagged as a troubled utility, according to Mayor Jolly.

Recommendations one and two include approving the Five-Year Capital Asset Plan and meeting revenue requirements for its fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. TUA recommends increasing its minimum water bill for both inside-town and outside-town customers by $1 and increase its usage rate for both by $1.50 to become effective October 1, 2020.

Recommendation 3 requires the Town to adopt a resolution “establishing a capitalization policy that incorporates the service lives the Town currently uses for all capital assets except its water system assets. The policy should adopt the service lives for its water system using the recommended service lives adopted by the WWFB for water systems.”

The final two recommendations include using the $45,000 from the ECD Infrastructure Planning Grant to hire an engineer or consultant to assist in assessing its water losses and in developing a plan to improve its current level of water loss; and, for the town to develop a new customer contract.

TUA’s bill for the report is $3,000.

The town’s water system is made up of 16.4 miles of water line, with 6.4 miles located inside the town and 10 miles located outside the town. Water is purchased from Fayetteville Public Utilities (FPU), with the last water bill running $11,072.11. It was also noted that Rye Engineering, hired by the town to check for leaks, hasn’t located any major leaks thus far.

However, Petersburg’s Certified Water Operator Jack Atchley said from May 27 – June 26, small leaks accounted for a loss of 6,000 gallons, which means 42 percent of the water is unaccounted for. After conferring with FPU, it was discovered that the main valve isn’t closing completely, which allows water to flow all the time. The belief is that the gaskets are worn out. Cost to make repairs is estimated at under $2,000.

Atchley said that the town doesn’t fill the reservoir to capacity so the water stays fresh. “We don’t want stagnant water,” he added.

Atchley reminded the board that he is giving up the job with the water department after 10 years and his last day is planned for September 7. He did say he will perform the upcoming quarterly samplings. The board will have up to 45 days to find his replacement, who should have, at minimum, a Grade 1 Distributor license.

“I appreciate being able to work here for almost 10 years,” Atchley said, adding it was time for him to step down.

The TUA report detailed the Water Fund’s projected statements of revenues and expenses and changes in net position for fiscal years ending in June from 2020-2025 with operating revenues staying consistent at $220,714, while operating expenses increase and losses steadily climb from $1,045 to $11,184 to $19,273 to $25,730 to $32,494 to $38,602 by 2025, respectively.

Alderman Jessica Moore made the motion to table action for WWFB’s Order until after the election to enable new members to be part of its implementations. The motion was seconded by Alderman McDonald, and approved by the board.