Red Bank’s representative on the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority’s governing board said he wants the body to vote again on an $8 monthly fee that members approved last month.
“I think that’s the best way to clear it up,” said Wayne Hamill about the contentious fee that will be added to the bills of 24,000 customers.
The vote on the fee the board took at a May 7 called meeting may not be valid, said Gary Lander, an attorney with the law firm of Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel.
But the fee increase has been approved twice. The board voted again at a May 21 regular meeting to approve the increase, presented in the form of a resolution.
According to state case law, public notices of called meetings must state what actions will be taken and what issues discussed if the matters are of “pervasive interest,” Mr. Lander said.
The authority’s notice in the May 3 edition of the Chattanooga Times Free Press stated the meeting was for “the purpose of conducting such business as may properly come before (the board).”
Water board Chairman Henry Hoss said he would consult with the board’s attorney, John Anderson, to see if a mistake was made.
The May 7 vote was only for the purpose of having an official plan to bring to Signal Mountain residents at a public meeting May 13, he said. Otherwise, a special meeting would not have been called, he said.
Mr. Hamill, who is Red Bank’s public works administrator, also raised questions about the legitimacy of the May 7 meeting. He said he did not receive the 48-hour notice of the meeting required in the authority’s bylaws.
“They could have called us,” he said.
Mr. Hoss said the authority staff did call Mr. Hamill but left a message when unable reach him. He said that was done as a courtesy and that there is no legal obligation to do so.
Mr. Hamill said he did not receive the call within 48 hours of the meeting. Still, he said he is not planning a legal challenge to the vote’s validity.
The fee plan and the circumstances under which board members approved it at a May 7 called meeting have raised scrutiny among Red Bank officials and some county commissioners.
“We weren’t very well prepared for this,” Commissioner John Allen Brooks told wastewater authority officials.
Outcry against the fee prompted the board to delay the fee’s implementation until at least the next meeting, scheduled for June 18.
The fee plan would add $96 per year in charges to 24,000 gravity sewer customers’ bills. The money would be used for inspection and repair of pipes that connect homes to the main sewer line. Water authority officials have said that about half of the customers affected likely will need repairs.
Mr. Hamill and others have said the overall plan is unfair because all customers must pay for repairs only some need. The plan is unfair to Red Bank, where customers already pay more than $8 per month extra for repairs made in the 1990s, he said.
The board may have to seek other plans in which only those who need repairs pay, though he conceded that the $8 fee may be the most equitable way to pay for needed work.
Mr. Hoss said the board would discuss alternative plans.
The Department of Environment and Conservation order requires the water authority to develop a repair plan for its countywide system, not just for Signal Mountain. All municipalities in Hamilton County except Signal Mountain have their sewage treated at the Chattanooga’s Moccasin Bend treatment plant.