Piggott Council Addresses Utility Rate Issue at Meeting

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Members of the Piggott City Council handled a fairly light agenda at Monday night's regular monthly meeting at city hall. During a discussion of old business, the matter of the recently-approved cut in power rates for Piggott Community Hospital, and the forgiveness of a debt to MLWS, was re-visited with comments from about a half dozen citizens.

Council members also updated the rules for the Job Stimulus Board; were updated on a condemnation effort and heard a report on the utility departments. The meeting ended with a nearly 20 minute executive session, after which they re-convened and took no action prior to adjourning.

With all members in attendance, along with city clerk Ramona Magee, city attorney Kimberly Dale, utilities director Brian Haley and police chief Don Poole, Mayor Jim Poole called the meeting to order.

After dispensing with the approval of the city clerk's report, and minutes of the previous meeting, Poole opened the floor to public comment from among the dozen citizens on hand for the meeting. At this point none of those on hand chose to speak to council, prompting the mayor to proceed.

Council next voted to amend the agenda, allowing Mike Scott with the Job Stimulus Board to make a request for a rule change for the board. Earlier this year new rules were put in place which would allow the board to obtain a legislative audit, as opposed to hiring a CPA for the purpose. Due to the change it was also noted the board would provide their completed audit to council in a timely manner. During Monday night's gathering the rules were clarified to indicate the summary audit would be completed and submitted by June 30.

The change was passed on a vote of 4-0.

The next order of business was a continuation of the discussion concerning the hospital's electric rates and recent debt forgiveness. Both issues had been addressed at the January meeting, and were re-visited during the contentious gathering in February at which time a large crowd of citizens were on hand for the meeting. At that time councilman Mike Cook asked that discussion be tabled until Monday night, prompting some of the members of the public to believe another vote would be taken.

Once again relaxing the rules of the meeting, several of the citizens were allowed to comment on the matter. In turn, Poole sought to explain the situation and what steps were being taken to remedy the hospital's financial situation.

Cook again reiterated he felt more oversight from the city was in order, and requested that the hospital's utility bill, and payments, be reviewed at each monthly council meeting. Following the discussion this was put in the form of a motion by Cook, and was agreed to on a vote of 4-0 with council members Jeff Benbrook, Jamie Parks and Travis Williams concurring.

Council also heard an update on condemnation efforts for the home at 857 East Orr Street, although no one representing the owners appeared at the public hearing held prior to the regular gathering.

Noting the work should be done as soon as possible, the council members voted 4-0 to allow the condemnation proceedings to continue on the parcel.

Members of the council again amended the agenda at this point, voting to consider the appointment of a new member to the airport commission. Based on the recommendation of the commission, Chip O'Connor was approved without dissent.

Also under new business, Mayor Poole presented council members with copies of his annual “State of the City” report. The complete text is being uploaded to the city's website and may be found at www.cityofpiggott.org

Council members also adjusted the schedule of their monthly meetings to take into account the Memorial Day holiday, which falls on the same day as their May meeting each year. At the suggestion of Councilman Parks, the schedule has been altered to move the regular May meeting to the third Monday, at 6 p.m., at city hall. The change was approved on a vote of 4-0.

During his update to council, Haley offered a stellar report on the city's utilities in light of the recent storm activity. “We were very fortunate this past weekend, although a lot of our neighbors weren't,” he noted. “The really bad weather skirted the city, and although we did get some heavy winds we had no outages.”

Haley credited the electric crews for their tree trimming and maintenance efforts, adding “I thought it was pretty awesome, they did a great job.”

He also commended the water department for their response during the rainy weather.

“They had a few issues, had to clean out a couple of manholes and such,” he explained. “But they should also be commended for the great work they do.”

Haley also reported on his efforts to arrange for a review of the city's utility rates in light of recent citizen complaints.

“We've got an engineering firm we've been working with for over 40 years and they can come in and review our current rates, management system and costs,” he explained. “The city hasn't done a rate study in about 20 years, and this would give us a chance to look at the residential, business and big industry rates.”

Haley noted the firm would charge the city $17,500 to review either the electric or water and sewer rates, but would do both for $15,000 each.

Questioning the cost, and how the public would perceive the effort, Cook voiced his opposition to the review.

“The review could tell us we need to go up or down, but the people wanted to know where things stand and if that's what you want that's what we will do.” Haley added. “But it's up to you, I wouldn't be doing my job if I wasn't looking out for the people of Piggott.”

Council agreed it would be an advantage to have “another set of eyes” looking at the situation, but failed to offer a motion allowing the review to proceed. Instead, Cook offered a motion to table the issue and that measure passed 4-0.

Councilman Cook then offered a motion to enter into an executive session to discuss personnel matters, which was approved without dissent. After a 19 minute closed door session the council members re-convened, but took no action prior to adjourning.

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