Utilities board settlement OK'd
by DANIEL GADDY
Jun 12, 2012 | 1371 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CARBON HILL — Less than a week after legal action stalled a $41,980 settlement between the city council and utilities board, city officials voted to approve the agreement, which they hope will resolve a dispute between the two entities.

The controversy involves a franchise tax collected by the utilities board for more than a decade. Though the board included the fee on residents’ water bills, it did not turn the revenue over to the City of Carbon Hill.

During a joint work session on Wednesday, representatives from both the utilities board and the city council compromised on $24,000 for back payments of the franchise tax. The remaining $17,980 was to satisfy unpaid health insurance premiums for utilities board workers.

Before the city council met on Thursday, however, city leaders received an injunction blocking the settlement. The order was requested by an attorney representing three former members of the utilities board: Jerry Nelson, Milton Jackson and Joe Killingsworth.

During a single meeting in January of 2012, the city council voted to remove the three members, saying they refused to provide public information and pay the franchise tax. The former members, however, dispute the charges and say they were unlawfully removed from their posts.

Russ Robertson, the attorney for the former board members, said his clients feel the decision regarding the settlement should be made by the rightful board members.

Though a judge had not signed the injunction, city attorneys on Thursday advised the council to table the settlement.

A joint meeting of the council and utilities board was called on Monday when it became clear no local judge would uphold the injunction.

Present at the meeting were council members Jacque Allred, James Johnson and Willie Clayton, as well as utilities board members Ronnie O’Rear and Pete Bray. Mayor Chris Hart and council member Chris Pschirer, who are both members of the utilities board, also attended the meeting.

The representatives approved the $41,980 settlement agreed upon on Wednesday's work session —with one exception. Bray added a stipulation that, if a court rules that the ordinance establishing the franchise tax is invalid, the City of Carbon Hill will repay the $24,000.

Clayton asked if they should wait to approve the settlement until the ordinance is ruled upon by a court. Hart told him it could take years before that issue is resolved.

All of the representatives at the meeting voted to accept the proposal with Bray's amendment except for Clayton, who abstained.