Stephens, Taylor at odds on sewer issue

By ED HOWELL
Posted 8/29/18

DORA - Mayor Randy Stephens repeated last week the Dora City Council had to take action on sewer problems at City Hall after the Dora Utility Board didn't do work for 20 months — but one councilman …

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Stephens, Taylor at odds on sewer issue

Posted

DORA - Mayor Randy Stephens repeated last week the Dora City Council had to take action on sewer problems at City Hall after the Dora Utility Board didn't do work for 20 months — but one councilman says the Utility Board agreed to do the work in late 2016 and only one side of the story is being told. 

In fact, the superintendent of Dora Utilities said it  never intended to take the lead on the project, only to assist the city. 

At Thursday's meeting of the Dora City Council, Mayor Randy Stephens said Williams Septic Tank Service of Carbon Hill, which was approved at a called council meeting for sewer issues on Aug. l6 to hook up the city hall area to the East Walker Sewer System, would start work the following Monday. The cost of the work will be $5,800. 

Stephens said Jeff Williams would install two tanks and a 2-inch pressure line that will dump up to 250 feet for field lines. A pump will be below City Hall with an alarm, and if the pumps fail or get full, a siren and light will come on to give plenty of time to take action.

Stephens noted recently the system had backed up and the city jail has had sewer smell. The septic tank, which is near the jail, has had problems for years. Prisoners have had to be let out from the downstairs jail due to the problems, he said after Thursday's meeting, and City Hall upstairs has also had stench. 

Stephens said at the called meeting that the city had approached the Dora Utility Board to connect to the East Walker System, but it had never taken action, leading the mayor to decide to go with a private contractor. 

Councilman Arthur Lee Taylor, who voted against the move at the called meeting, said at Thursday's meeting that he found out from the Utility Board the city had approached it 20 months earlier, which Stephens said was correct. 

"Four days after we met, they voted to assist the city," Taylor said. 

"Well, it's 20 months too late, Mr. Taylor," Stephens said, adding later the city has had a work order all that time. 

"But they are supposed to help the city," Taylor said. Stephens agreed but said that the delay has led to "sewage backing into our jail. 

"Again, it is as simple as this: We have to do what we have to do to take care of ourselves," he said. "We can't depend on someone else any longer to help us out. We waited 20 months for us to help us out." 

"I just think they got a raw deal in the Mountain Eagle about it myself," Taylor said. "A lot of it falls on us." The mayor asked how that was the city's fault. 

"What were they supposed to do?" Taylor asked. Stephens explained what the work was to entail, and other council members backed up the mayor. 

"We're sitting here in the minority. It is what it is," Taylor said. Stephens replied, "That's the only way it is, Mr. Taylor. That's the truth." Taylor went on to say, "There has got to be a little bit of initiative on both ends." 

Stephens said the chairman of the Utilities Board, McArthur Sargent, who was a former councilman, told him numerous times, "I've been trying to get them to do what they said they would do, and they haven't done it yet." 

Stephens said after the meeting the project was bid out in December 2016. While no sewer line is in front of City Hall, there is one street over.

"The Utility Board was going to abandon a 6-inch line and move a fire hydrant for us, which was going to cost us about the same price, about $5,400 as I recall, to abandon the line, move the fire hydrant, so we voted on that option 20 months ago," the mayor said. Williams bid $5,800 at the time. 

A few days before the recent emergency meeting, the system failed, and an expert told him the field lines were not working. "The water level was above the field lines," Stephens said, noting he was told action was needed or the site would have to be pumped out every two weeks. 

He said he called the bidders again, and Duncan Excavating in Nauvoo added $200 to make it $6,100 due to increased costs, while Williams would still honor his quote. 

He also said had the city gone with the Utilities Board, the city also would have had a permanent monthly bill of undetermined cost, although he said it would probably have been in the range of $150. Financially, he said the Williams proposal was better to start with. 

He also noted the Utilities Board, which is independent from city control, currently has two lawsuits against the city. Taylor said a rift has existed between the board and the city for about a decade, noting a current dispute about membership on the Utility Board. 

"There is a power play for (the mayor and several council members) to take over the Utility Board," Taylor said. 

Taylor on Friday showed minutes from the "Waterworks and Gas Board of Dora, Alabama" (what is commonly referred to as the Dora Utilities Board) on Dec. 27, 2016, which states, "A motion was made by Kristie Tuggle to approve the request of Mayor Stephens, to assist the city with connecting City Hall on sewer. The motion was seconded by Norman Holt. Chairman McArthur Sargent agreed. The motion carried." He said only one side of the story has been stated to make it look bad on the Utility Board. 

He said he and Councilman Marion Combs are not being recognized at the council table. "It's sad it has to be like that," he said. "There's been 10 years where nothing was done for the citizens of Dora. Not one thing than they applied for sewer grants." He said the only other grants have been small ones from entities like Alabama Power. "There hasn't been the first trip made to Montgomery in 10 years to try to get a grant. What I'm telling you can be verified." 

Nina Absher, the superintendent of Dora Utilities, indicated Monday that the words "assist the city" were to be taken literally. The motion was to assist city workers in any work it would do to install the sewer, as it does not do actual sewer work. In fact, a service order was never placed to install the sewer, and there was never any intention to take the lead on the project. 

"All our guys were supposed to do was to assist the city workers, which they went two or three times and talked to city workers," she said. "But it seemed there was some type of confusion on whether he was going septic or sewer, and we were never called with a date that they were going to install or do anything. I mean, we don't do sewer. We do water and we do gas." 

She had at first not been intending to say anything during the recent discussion on the matter. "Sometimes it is just best when some things blow over," she said. 

In other action, the council: 

• Heard Stephens say the Veterans Memorial Committee has been formed and appointed as part of efforts to put a memorial in front of the Dora Civic Center by Memorial Day 2019. Trees have been cut, although a couple more will have to be cut. The committee is expected to hold its first meeting soon. Some grant fund is available for partial funding. 

• Heard from Stephens that on the project to hook up the city's clinic property on Horse Creek Boulevard to the sewer system, a plumber indicated problems with hard rock that would need special equipment. The city used a backhoe for test digging to determine the rock was not that bad, but in the process the city accidentally hit an old 6-inch pressure sewer line that was replaced but still viable. The repair was expected to be made the next day. 

• Heard from Stephens about property lines at the Horse Creek Golf Course in relation to the proposed new sign for the golf course, as well as a proposed site for a sign. The sign maker was coming to meet with officials the next day. 

"It has been suggested we raise the sign up," Stephens said. "We might get more visibility putting it up 2 feet higher," noting visibility on the westbound lane of Highway 78 is not that good. Cost estimates will be obtained for raising the sign. 

• Heard the mayor, in answering a question, note that the Aug. 16 emergency meeting was posted "on the wall," with only 24 hours notice. Other meetings called with more advance time are posted in the Daily Mountain Eagle, on the city's Facebook and website page, as well as the Dora Post Office, the City Hall and the Dora Cafe.