Water problems stress Dresden city officials

Water problems stress Dresden city officials
If you want to learn what public servants are doing in the face of a natural challenge like the recent storms, visit a town board meeting like the one held in Dresden on May 1. Five of the six aldermen made it through the storms Monday night for the monthly meeting; Jake Bynum was absent.
In one departmental report after another, it became evident that when flash flooding plagues the county, city officials in all uniforms have to put in long hours, including those from the fire and police department, public works, water plant and city hall. Unusual weather also affects how the city plans for its future. According to daily measurements taken at the water plant in Dresden, over eight inches of rain fell in the last half of April. Dresden already has strains on its aging sewer system which is often infiltrated by high rain waters. The city was considering applying for a $500,000 loan from the state for a sewer rehab. But aldermen were not pleased Monday night with conditions the state, at the recommendation of external auditors, were placing on the loan.  
Auditors said that Dresden’s sewer and water rates were not enough to cover costs and had recommended rate hikes over a ten year period to cover the costs of a loan and maintaining the service. Aldermen Gwin Anderson and Richard Tidwell expressed confusion over the auditing report calculations with Anderson frustrated over an auditor acting as  “water king” with power over whether or not Dresden got the loan.
The aldermen voted to decline the loan process for the sewer rehab now and refund water customers two months of increased fees that were in place to cover the loan. That amounts to $6 a customer.
The city water services had a negative change in assets last fiscal year, according to the audit and by state regulations can only be in the red for three years until the state takes over, a point clarified by Alderman Tidwell. But for now the sewer rehab issue appears to be postponed.
Director of Public Works Kerry Cooper reported that so far, though the rains had “kept them busy” he was optimistic that “hopefully if there is no more rain we will be ok.” Nevertheless, the department did have to rent extra pumps “since the lagoon was about to run over” and also reported that manholes were under water in some fields. Jeff Pierpoint, Water and Waste Water superintendent,  echoed Cooper’s assessment that so far the “situation was under control.”
Both men have visited state wide meetings on “water loss” recently to learn about ways the city can retrieve costs of its services more efficiently. Cooper did confirm that “we are in a change out program,” where at least six old water meters were being replaced with new ones every month, but there was competition from efforts to “try and get a handle on the weather.”
The fire department has also put in long hours dealing with the storms, reported Fire Chief Paul Hutcherson.  Firemen answered over 25 calls on each of two storm nights helping clear blocked highways, rescuing people who were trapped in their houses by fallen trees, and marking places that had hazardous lines down. On both nights, firemen worked straight through the night to morning.
Despite the intermittent rain storms, the first night of the Iris Festival was a “successful opening” according to Park Director David Beatty, even though weather pushed them to set off the fireworks early. In the playing fields of the park, Beatty said that one of the fences in a baseball field had blown over and for some reason, possibly lightening, the scoreboard  was “knocked out.”
Aldermen did address a concern by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church that the Iris Festival traffic was blocking an entrance to the church  and their  request to possibly move the festival to the park. The mayor also pointed out that the carnival had outgrown its space for additional rides downtown. The aldermen voted to leave the matter to the Festival Committee to decide.
In other business, at least a half hour of the one and a half hour board meeting was taken up with a continuing conflict of interest concern, one that has landed on the board’s agenda for at least three meetings. It concerns the fair rotation of three wrecker services, one of which allegedly has a connection to Alderman Ronnie Gearin, when police dispatch wreckers to the scene. Though the matter was not fully put to rest, with Alderman Tidwell requesting further reporting, it was decided that even more forms will be filled out on the scene of an accident, so that the public can examine them. Already a large binder is kept on “Tow-In reports” and this was passed around for board members and others to examine. Mayor Brundige said the city was “trying to be fair” with the issue that has been discussed at three board meetings.
Interim police chief Ricky Cobb, was also praised by the mayor and some of the aldermen for his work at the helm left by Brent Perry who recently resigned after 18 years.
wcp 5/5/11

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