After affirming the appointment of Jeb Brown as police chief, the Tellico Plains City Council tackled a small but discussion-filled agenda on Thursday night.

Following up on old business, City Council approved a deposit fee policy for new water customers, in addition to approving a partnership with Online Utilities Exchange to collect unpaid debts after Utilities Manager Robert Patty announced in February that the town was losing more than $10,000 each year in unpaid water debts.

“We’ve run into a situation,” said Patty. “People keep coming in and getting a water tap and then not paying for their water. The town is having to absorb a considerable amount of money. This has been going on around 25 years. The debt is unreal of what we’ve lost. It’s in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

According to Patty, the company would do background checks on customers and based on what comes back, that would determine the deposit a customer would have to pay.

“Not everyone will have to pay a deposit — if they have good credit, or are in good standing — but everyone who falls short would have to pay a deposit,” explained Patty.

In addition, the company also attempts to collect unpaid debts dating back to seven years at a 35 percent fee.

“If they don’t collect the debt, we don’t pay. If they collect, we pay them 35 percent of the paid debt,” he said.

The contract with Online Utilities Exchange costs around $30 per month.

City Council also approved implementing a work order program, at a cost of $193 per month, for the Water Department.

“Legally right now, if someone wants to take us to court, all we’ve got is sticky notes stuck around,” said Patty. “This program would have time stamps, dates. Photos could be added.”

Patty said there would be a webinar for training the employees, City Hall staff and City Council members to use the program.

“If employees will use it, then it will be effective and worth doing,” said Mayor Patrick Hawkins. “Computer programs only work if people use them.”

Noting that it could be revisited to see if it is working effectively, City Council approved the program unanimously.

The cost of both the work order program and the partnership with Online Utilities Exchange will come out of the Water Department’s budget.

The City Council also heard an update and request from the Fire Department. Fire Chief Jamie Sisson told the board that a lot of the volunteer firefighters’ gear is set to expire later this year.

Sisson presented a couple quotes to the board, estimating that it could cost between $28,000-$32,000 to outfit 10 firefighters, roughly $3,000 per firefighter.

“I hate to come asking for money,” said Sisson. “We try not to ask for a lot.”

One suggestion that Sisson offered was to see if it would be possible for the City Council to fund several sets of gear each year on a cycle.

When asked about grants, Sisson told City Council that federal money is drying up and there were not a lot of other grant funds available to help offset the cost.

“We get $9,000 annually from the county, and that’s all we get,” said Sisson. “We have some reserve funds on the rural side, but we’re down to one engine right now and have some other expenses. We don’t have a lot of funds to play with.”

Sisson said it is also getting harder to fight fires.

“No one wants to volunteer,” he said.

Mayor Hawkins said he would check to see if something like this would be eligible for a TML Safety Grant.

Currently, the town allocates $12,700 in its budget for the Fire Department. The upcoming 2019-20 fiscal year starts July 1, and budget talks will be underway soon.

“It gives us some time to throw some numbers together and see how much we can help with,” said Hawkins.

“You all are putting your lives on the line to protect us, the least we can do is try to get you in equipment that will help protect you,” added City Councilwoman Marilyn Parker.

Also at the meeting:

  • The City Council approved the surplus trade of two guns from the Police Department. Mayor Hawkins said the department would like to trade in the compact guns for two full-size ones.

“There shouldn’t be hardly any money involved,” said Hawkins.

  • Steven Patton addressed the City Council on behalf of New Providence Missionary Baptist Church. Patton said the church is getting close to starting construction on its new building on its expansion property on Highway 68.

“We’re close to getting the process rolling,” he said.

But, the church discovered they will need a water line extended to the property.

Patty told the board the cost would be somewhere around $4,000 to extend the line so the church could connect to the town’s water supply.

With budget talks on the horizon, the City Council tabled the topic to look at it further in the budget and see what the town could do.

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