Lookout Mountain, Ga. Considering "Wall Of Shame" For Delinquent Sewer Bills; 10 Arrests Made In Spate Of Burglaries

Friday, September 20, 2013 - by Gail Perry

Lookout Mountain, Ga. City Council members on Thursday night ratified the final SPLOST intergovernmental agreement with Walker County and the other municipalities that share the one percent special purpose local option sales tax. This money is divided among the cities according to population and the county government. City Attorney Bill Pickering explained a new distribution of money that comes from this tax.

The Aug. 31 sewer budget recap compiled by Chairman of the Sewer Board Jimmy Campbell showed the city is right on target for expenses and has $11,752 available for repairs. There was discussion concerning the future of the aging sewer system. Within the city limits are 604 pumps at an average age of 14 years and with a life expectancy of 20. In the next six to eight years it is expected that many will need to be replaced.

Homeowners who originally had the pump and tanks installed did not buy them, but putting them in gave them the legal right to hook up to the system with the city being responsible for maintenance, officials said. 

City manager Brad Haven said, “We have a liability in front of us that needs to be addressed. We are seeing a larger number of grinder pumps that need to be replaced each year.” The current price of the equipment is $2,200. Several options were mentioned including the possibility of the city disallowing the responsibility for repairs thereby making the homeowner responsible, or raising the sewer fees and putting that money into an escrow account. Mr. Haven and Mr. Campbell were charged with doing an estimate of the older ones and giving a recommendation to the council. At that time, different options will be discussed.

Another problem brought forward concerned sewer payments. In August, 14 homes that have meters had no water usage and no sewer charges. When the sewer board was established, the agreement was for a meter and usage fee if the water service is active, even if not used. By implementing that practice next month, the city should receive an additional $400-$500, said Mr. Campbell.

An additional issue facing the sewer board is how to handle delinquent sewer bills. By the August due date, 107 bills had not been paid. The collection procedure is that two automated calls are made on consecutive weeks, and after that a final notice is sent by mail. Following the calls, all but 37 bills were paid. It was noted that half of the delinquent bills came from renters. Also, in a random check made by the city manager and Mr. Campbell, it was found that meters that had been turned off by the sewer company had been turned back on by the resident.

Options discussed for collecting the delinquent payments included putting a lock on the meter, blocking the sewer lines so they are disabled, or creating a “wall of shame” where names of property owners would be read at the next city council meeting.

The city is looking at identifying the houses that are rented and possibly amending an ordinance to make the owner of the property responsible for sewer bills if the tenant does not pay.

Attorney Pickering said the ordinance already in place calls for the city manager to issue a show cause notice if bills are not paid. This would allow 20 days to show why the sewer lines should not be plugged. And, tampering with the meters is classified as a misdemeanor with monetary fines.

In other business, John Dutton and David DeVaney were welcomed back to the Planning Committee. Michelle Waterhouse was appointed to the Board of Zoning and Appeals, replacing Ina Crouch who moved out of town. And, a meeting to set the millage rate for 2013 was set for Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 a.m.

The city manager showed examples of the refurbished street name signs and repaired stop signs that the city’s shop has been able to do in house. That means a large savings for the city, he said. It was also decided to repaint the city hall building’s exterior.

Councilman David Fussell made the suggestion of appointing a commissioner to be in charge of each department in order to keep the council informed of all city business on a regular basis. This will be considered at the next council meeting.

In the mayor’s report, Sandy Gothard asked Chief Todd Gann to update the council on the burglaries that have taken place on both the Georgia and Tennessee sides of Lookout Mountain in recent weeks. Chief Gann said the four men that had been found inside a house and arrested led them to information about other people involved with the crimes. 

The Lookout Mountain Ga. and Tn. Police worked together with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department and the Chattanooga Police Department, which resulted in discovering a cache of 40 flat screen TVs, 20 laptop computers and iPads, drugs and guns. Six more people were taken into custody at the house near South Broad Street where the items were found, for a total of 10 arrests. There are warrants remaining for two more people involved with the thefts. He said it was a great effort made by everyone involved.

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