“What’s it gonna hurt to hear what they have to say?”
That’s what the Tellico Plains City Council thought during their meeting on Thursday, April 4, when they agreed to allow the Tennessee division of American Water to come and speak with them about the company’s interest in purchasing the town’s water utilities system.
“They have been asking to talk to the board for a couple months now so I mentioned it to the board,” Tellico Plains Mayor Patrick Hawkins told The Advocate & Democrat this week. “At this point, it’s just a listening conversation. No deals or proposals have been made.”
But despite no conversations being had about actually selling the utilities to a company, social media was soon a firestorm with people posting their anger and telling others to address the City Council members to tell them “this is not acceptable.”
“All we did was agree to listen to what they have to say,” said Hawkins. “This is just an option to look at.”
The town of Tellico Plains has some of the lowest water rates in the state, but the system is deteriorating with age and funding can be hard to come by in the small town.
“Our water system is 50 years old. The sewer system is 40 years old,” said Hawkins. “Our rates haven’t changed to keep up with the depreciation of our system. We are in need of some major, major upgrades in the next 10 years. Either way, we’re going to be looking at a rate increase to cover that cost.”
Hawkins said the decision to hear what American Water wants to say did not come because up in an emergency situation, however.
“We aren’t in financial stress right now,” he said. “Our Water Department is in sound condition and financial stability. We have no violations from the state. There’s plenty of water in our supply. It’s not an emergency.”
“But, the City Council has a responsibility to ensure the future of our water supply,” Hawkins continued. “We want our citizens to know that if it’s not good for the town, or for our citizens, then it will be an absolutely no deal. It will have to be the perfect scenario or we won’t even entertain it. We are in no hurry. If, and when, a meeting happens with American Water, the public will be notified and can attend.”
Also at the meeting:
- In a brief Beer Board meeting before the regular meeting of the City Council, the board approved an on-premise consumption beer permit for Cotton Pickin Inn (Rose Tippit) and approved the change of business ownership on the beer permit for Shorty’s Market (Komal Patel).
- During the regular meeting, in old business, a request by Jim DeBernardi to appear before the board to discuss water tap fees along Bear Lane was tabled as he was unable to attend the meeting.
In new business, the City Council voted to surplus sale a Dodge Durango from the Police Department. nThe board also approved a request from Douglas-Cherokee to use the Tellico Plains Community Center (for free) in the late fall or early 2020 for a commodities exchange.
- The Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) recently awarded a $500,000 HOME Program grant to Tellico Plains to help make much-needed repairs to substandard homes for elderly and disabled residents. During last Thursday’s meeting, the City Council passed a resolution for administrative services, policy and procedures to get the program started. Community Development Partners will administer the grant on behalf of the town.
The HOME Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is administered in part in Tennessee by THDA. Tellico Plains will use the funding to renovate or rebuild at least six single-family homes located in the city limits.
“The project will benefit low-income individuals who do not have the financial resources to make needed improvements to their residences,” said Hawkins.
- The City Council approved a (verbal) proposal from the Stokely Company to quick claim deed the former American Legion building, off of Bank Street, to the town. The Stokely Company will handle all the legal paperwork.
“The building will need some TLC before we do anything with it,” said Hawkins. “They’ve asked that it only be used for civic purposes or community-related organizations, and that it never be resold.”
- Jamison Sliger from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation presented the town with its Tier I Benchmark Certification through the end of 2024 (five years). The certification is valuable when it comes to recreation grants and efforts.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Hawkins. “It will create even more opportunities for the town. Special thanks to everyone who put work into this, especially city employee Greg Newman, who worked really hard on getting us this renewal.”