Council votes to raise town's sewer rates

By NICOLE SMITH, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 8/24/17

OAKMAN — The Oakman Town Council voted Monday night to raise the town’s sewer rates.

Over the past few months, the council has discussed raising the sewer rates for general operational costs and to meet USDA requirements.

Residential water …

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Council votes to raise town's sewer rates

Posted

OAKMAN — The Oakman Town Council voted Monday night to raise the town’s sewer rates.

Over the past few months, the council has discussed raising the sewer rates for general operational costs and to meet USDA requirements.

Residential water usage revenue has also been down in the town, prompting the rate increase.

In June, Oakman Mayor Cory Franks told the Eagle the sewer rate should have been steadily increased over the past few years but wasn’t, which has resulted in a more significant increase to date.

The USDA has approved the revised rates submitted by Nelson Engineering Associates, who collected data to determine the appropriate sewer rate increase.

Residents currently pay $17.80 each month for the first 3,000 gallons used, and they will now pay $19.20 each month — a $1.40 increase. Commercial rates will also increase by $4.55 each month for the first 4,000 gallons used.

The sewer rate increase will become effective starting with the Sept. 1 billing period, and will be on October’s billing statement for residents.

Franks also presented a possible new garbage pickup plan to the town council Monday to illustrate the cost savings for residents and potential revenue for the town. Franks has proposed for the town to end services with the Walker County Solid Waste Department and to instead use Republic Services for mandatory garbage pick up.

The county charges residents $42 quarterly ($14 each month) for garbage pick up, according to their website. With Republic Services, residents would only pay $13.70 each month for residential pickup. Franks said Republic Services charges $12.30 to residents each month, giving Oakman the option to charge an additional $1.40 monthly as a revenue source for the town.

He said it’s important to note that Oakman residents will be saving on their garbage bill, even with the new sewer rate increase.

“You’ll still have garbage services as normal, you’ll just be paying less for them,” Franks said.

While the town hasn’t officially voted to implement the new garbage plan, Franks said it is important — in light of the county’s current financial standing — to make important fiscal decisions to strengthen municipalities.

“Due to the county’s failed one cent sells tax increase, we don’t know what services may or may not be cut, if there are services cut. I have to make decisions that I think are going to be best for us here in Oakman, and this is one of them,” Franks said. “It’s my thinking that if I can give the people something better, that’s what I want to do. At this point, it’s going to be cheaper than what you’re paying, and the town will also have some type of revenue coming in from the garbage pick up.”

He said Republic Services is a highly reputable company that serves over 2,700 municipalities across the nation.

In other business, the council:

•heard a proposal from Franks to apply for a town credit card. He said First Bank of Jasper said they would be open to providing the town with a credit card, which would be used for “minor necessities,” such as required training classes and other town needs.

He said Oakman has a bad credit reputation, due to the management of debts by previous administrations, but he said it’s important for the town to start building credit again.

“Things are looking a lot better for us now, and we have to start somewhere to build that trust back up and to build the town’s credibility back up,” Franks said.

Council member Marion Constant made a motion to apply for a credit card, but the motion received no second. Other council members had no comment and asked to table the consideration of obtaining a credit card.

•heard the audit report from Oct. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2016, fiscal year for Oakman from Don Wallace. Wallace noted “significant deficiency,” particularly in regards to the town’s bookkeeping.

Wallace said Oakman had $567,846 in expenses, but only had an income of $517,768, creating a $50,078 deficit. He said total income was down some for the fiscal year, resulting in less revenue.

“That does reflect an overall loss of value in your assets,” Wallace said. “It does reflect the need to try to make sure you have a good financial position and that you have the cash flow you need for debt, and what you need to be able to maintain and keep up the systems and things that need to be done.”

He said records of the town’s financials were not properly documented and updated by the former town clerk, and many records were handwritten, instead of being digitally recorded. He also said the town’s accounting software had not been utilized.

Oakman hired a new town clerk in March, Lisa Lockhart, who has been helping town hall make the transition to digital record keeping. Wallace said she is also being trained on how to back up the town’s data.

Wallace said it will be important for Oakman to seek additional revenue streams in the future to ensure improved financial standing and to adopt a formal budget.

Franks said Oakman’s finances are now being properly managed, and the town is applying for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for upgrades to the town’s sewer — a major expense that contributed to the town’s financial deficit for the audited fiscal year.

The council approved to submit the CDBG application, and Oakman will learn later this year if they are a grant recipient. Franks said other grants for the town are pending, and revenue options are being explored.

•heard that Oakman’s inaugural Day’s Gap Fest, planned for Oct. 13-14, is gaining popularity. Lockhart said 18 bands have been confirmed for the event, some vendors have been secured and the town has received a number of donations and in-kind services for the festival.

“We’ve received a lot of donations so far. We’re almost at $4,000 from businesses across Walker County and here in Oakman,” Lockhart said.

The town is looking for volunteers to assist at the event. Vendors can register for $20, and the accompanying car and motorcycle show has slots open for $15. To inquire about the event, call Lockhart at Oakman Town Hall at (205) 622-3232.

“We encourage people to come out and be a part of this day. It’s a day for the people,” Franks said. “When I had this idea, it wasn’t something I looked at as being a money maker. ... It’s about giving the people in our town something to be proud of, something to do and something to be a part of.”