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09.14.06 --- REPORT: Council stomps down water rate hike in game of budgetary hopscotch

Council kills water rate hike, rolls back taxes
McIntosh will continue to have Marion County's cheapest water

By CHER PHILLIPS


Click HERE to download a windows media audio file of this meeting. (41.2 MB)


McINTOSH -- The McIntosh Town Council voted to cut the two major revenue generating avenues at their disposal and in the same meeting Thursday night approved an additional expenditure of $8,000.

After facing a shortfall for the second year in a row, council members have been trying to prepare residents during previous months for a water rate hike, as well as ending the tradition of rolling back the millage rate each year.

But as three council members resigned, the new council changed course. The motion to raise the water rates from $6 to $9 per month, with the gallonage rate remaining the same, failed with the 4-member council deadlocked in a tie. Frank Ciotti, serving as council president, and newly sworn in Council Member Eva Jo Callahan voted for raising the water rates. Council Members Eunice Smith and Lee Deaderick voted against the increase.

Town Clerk Julie Musselman said the increase would bring in about $7,000-$8,000 more revenue. McIntosh has the lowest rates in Marion County and Musselman said the water service officials recently told her the town has the county's best quality water, as well.

The council added the millage rate to the agenda and tentatively approved -- meaning this will go through at least another reading -- a roll back on the millage rate to 1.09 from this year's rate of 1.2611. This means that McIntosh's property tax dollar amount would stay the same, regardless of inflation and increases in property values.

While residents' bills will remain the same, as they have for years, the disadvantage of this practice is that a town the size of McIntosh has very few ways of making money. In the past month, the town council decided to let the sheriff's contract go in an attempt to loosen up more money into the budget. While that gave the council about $46,000-worth of wiggle room, that wiggle room gets tighter and tighter as any remaining shortfall will come off the top.

To compound that, the council approved spending $8,000 on a service to codify McIntosh's laws. Several council members, audience members and the town's attorney agreed was worthwhile because it would consolidate the town's codes into one logical document, which would also be checked for its legality in the process.

The fight with the budget continues to be a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process. The council approved a new auditor for the next two years which will save the town about $3,000. Ciotti also made note of another mounting expense: legal fees. For instance, when former Council Member Jim Strange sued Casey Girardin, as the petition committee recalling him, he also sued the town clerk which will cost the town an estimated $1,600 - $1,700. Throughout his council term, Strange was a vocal opponent against the town's trends toward lawsuits and the mounting legal fees involved.

Two new council members were sworn in -- Eva Jo Callahan, who replaces resigned council member Joe Phillips, and Lee Deaderick, who will serve the remainder of resigned council member Danaya Wright's term. The qualifying period to replace Jim Strange will end Friday at noon. To date, one applicant -- Howard Walkup, a former council member -- has applied to serve. If no other McIntosh resident applies before noon Friday, Walkup will be appointed to the council without an election on Nov. 7. Deaderick asked Walkup at the end of the meeting if he would be willing to serve for one or two meetings until an election and Walkup said he did not think this would be appropriate.


In other news:

posted by Cher @ 10:42 PM,

13 Comments:

At   September 15, 2006 5:37 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

I beg your pardon, but I don't want to pay more for something that has not been improved upon. Is there a new water tower? Have the pipes been replaced? Is water now suddenly tasting better in McIntosh? Why should we pay more for a service that has remained unchanged for years? We don't even pay a professional (key word here, folks) to check on the safety of our water. It makes no sense to pay more for water when water is exactly the same. It's not like gold, people, it's value does not change. We need it, we pay for it. We shouldn't have to pay through the nose for it. Let's keep it reasonable to live in McIntosh, starting with the water prices.

The budget shortfalls are due to frivolous lawsuits brought by council members. I think they should pay!

 
At   September 15, 2006 9:02 PM     ,    Blogger Cher    said...

Whoa. Did I touch a nerve? I have a question only for discussion's sake 'cuz good Lord, I am not here to play devil's advocate, council's advocate, what-have-you. But I wonder this ... For a single family dwelling, the price increase that was voted down last night was $3 a month ... that's $36 a year for one home. I don't know who you are so I don't know your situation. Do you think an extra $3 a month is paying through the nose? Tell us. I'm honestly curious about that. Now, the folks who probably would have felt a significant financial impact would have been anyone with a trailer park, which means Casey and June. They would have been paying an extra $3 per trailer. As an aside, at the budget meeting in July, Julie went into great detail about the professional water service the town pays for and that it is checked daily. Last night, she said the service will paint the tower in 2010 -- Julie made a joke and said she was going to ask for a bright purple... (Only if we get lucky and find that Sherman Williams lists it in their historic chart!) If this has been left out of the reporting here, I'm sorry. I pick the major points and put the rest out there on audio for folks to listen to if they choose. I'm glad you brought it up in comment though.

 
At   September 15, 2006 9:18 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Ok our water?
If we don't put an increase on it then in the future we will have no (key word here, folks) funds saved for the repairs. That means NO WATER. That sounds bad to me.

 
At   September 15, 2006 11:01 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

I think that the water rates should go up. It would be nice for our town to have a little extra money in the reserves to maybe make some improvements to some things in the town. I don't think that $3.00 a month is going to break anyone here. However, I think its crap that Jim Strange's resignation and power play cost the town around $1500 to protect the well-being of Julie. Maybe if he wasn't so head strong he could have saved the town a little money!

 
At   September 16, 2006 1:14 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

It's amazing to me how people want to pay more for water. I don't understand this. You see it as a revenue generator. I see it as an affront. Three dollars today, in a year what happens?

The former council member, Howard Walkup, was responsible for involving the town in a lawsuit. That lawsuit was over a swimming pool dispute (to be or not to be) with none other than Danaya Wright. Danaya Wright turned out to be in the right (shocking, given that she is a law professor) and the town was left with legal fees. Howard Walkup cost the town because of his personal (Danaya's his next door neighbor) agenda.

Flash forward and now Jim Strange has done the very same thing in a different way.

I don't think I should have to pay more for my water because those clowns decided to involve McIntosh in frivolous lawsuits!

 
At   September 16, 2006 2:21 PM     ,    Blogger Cher    said...

Scott Walker read the proposed water rate in from the last time they raised them and the date on that was 1991. I don't know that they would raise the rates again in a year. I honestly doubt they'll raise them this year. But one $3 hike in 15 years ain't bad. In fact, it's much less than the rates the council discussed in the "secret-public" workshop meeting in February with a 3-tiered system that would penalize high volume users. That's what's so ironic about a small $3 hike. To editorialize -- the water rate hike was a token effort on the past council's part to attempt to care for the town financially without pissing everyone off and getting recalled in the process. For reference sake, I searched sites all over the state and I can not find water rates less expensive than McIntosh's. In fact, if the council had raised the water to $9 a month, the town still have have had some of the least expensive Marion County water. By the way, if anyone finds a Florida town with cheaper water, PLEASE post it. I think we'd all like to know. As for Danaya's pool. In interviews on the record in February, I talked with both Danaya Wright and Howard Walkup about this. Wright actually lost the summary judgement in court. Since it wasn't a court case, I am not sure who paid those court costs. Walkup said she started building her pool without a permit. Wright said the town's code permited her to do it because her pool wasn't more than 18 or so inches off the ground -- (whatever the code said.) Without getting into the direct quotes from either of those interviews, I will paraphrase and say Wright said in so many words, the whole thing was personal on Walkup's part. Paraphrasing again, Walkup said it wasn't. From the middle, it comes down to he said/she said. Did it need to go to court? Does anything in McIntosh need to go to court? That's up for anyone's opinion, especially since the council settled Wright's pool when Eunice Smith changed her vote agreeing to allow Wright a variance. Is McIntosh going to keep getting into lawsuits? Well, let us take a cursory glance at the system. Now, we have citizen boards -- the Board of Adjustment with chairman Barbara Fellman and the Code Enforcement Board with chairman Harris Fellman -- as the last chance for McIntosh residents to work things out with this town before they turn to their lawyers and take to the county court system. I see lawsuits and water rates as two separate issues. But three bucks for water or not, tell me, do ya think that the lawsuit trend is going to change any time soon? Have we seen these boards act in a spirit of wanting the find solutions for residents or do we see them working in ways that follow the letter of the codes and fines? The BOA wanted to charge Renee Wacha $7,000 for a road when there is nothing on the books for it. The Code Enforcement Board even has it's own lawyer. Want to change the system, the BOA has two open seats on it. Water rate changes aren't going to stop lawsuits. Getting involved and working toward resolution will. As always, thanks for reading.

 
At   September 18, 2006 1:06 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Here's a new flash...McIntosh does not have a budget shortfall. Since the meeting when the council agreed not to pay the sheriff, McIntosh has been in the black. No reason to raise water prices if we have no budget issue.

 
At   September 18, 2006 2:14 PM     ,    Blogger Cher    said...

True, for the moment. But they had a huge shortfall the year before, or so Wright said in an interview with me in February. My understanding is this shortfall was masked by FEMA reimbursements for town money spent during the 2004 hurricanes. A significant segment of the February workshop was dedicated to talking about the town's budget situation. To date in July, there was a shortfall. This was the point of the story, budgetary hopscotch -- subtract $46K and then start adding to it with the aforementioned rising attorney's fees, court costs, salaries, upkeep ... They haven't even pulled out the chuck of income from taxes that supposed to be dedicated to road improvement, yet. (Another point brought up in the July budget hearings.) As an journalist and an editor, I'm looking at the big picture based on things I've seen and heard in meetings over a period of months. News flash: There's not a shortfall THIS MONTH.

 
At   September 18, 2006 3:36 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

I would be willing to pay the increase in water, especially if the town would fix our road, Ave E, on the west side.

 
At   September 18, 2006 3:37 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

I want to know whos crazy idea it was to charge Renee Wacha seven thousand dollars in impact fees that don't even exist in McIntosh?!

 
At   September 19, 2006 7:09 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Why go up on the water rates? McIntosh does not need the money. We already get a vast surplus for such a small town. What difference does it make which form of tax McIntosh uses to get the money it needs. The only services that McIntosh can provide for its constituents is water and garbage pick-up. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And if anybody needs their road fixed, all they have to do is ask at the town office. Now that we've finished suing every tom, dick and harry, we can go about the business of running the town in a professional fashion. The fight is over, go home.

Cary McCollum

 
At   September 19, 2006 7:39 PM     ,    Blogger Cher    said...

Good point, Carey. The council could just cease the ad valorem rollback instead of raising the water rates. They'd build their reserves back faster if they did that. At one of these meetings along the way, the point came up that McIntosh's reserve was low by comparison to other Florida small towns, if I remember correctly. Does a town this size need millions in reserve? Absolutely not. But they do need to cover the town's butt. I'm just putting questions about there regarding the town's future, even in a small way. I think that after 15 years a $3 water rate increase would have been entirely reasonable and viewed by more than a few people as responsible governing. We'll have to wait to see if the inverse will show itself. As for the "fight," is it really over? I'm not sure that politics and news can ever be *over.* They just shift gears. And we are home, thanks. Or I am. I suppose I can't speak for anyone else posting here since I don't know their names. My point with the road money is that it is dedicated funding meant to be spent on road-related upkeep and as of July, it hadn't been according to the budget hearing So, those are chickens the town can't count on ever hatching. As always, thanks for reading and a double thank you for signing your name!

 
At   September 19, 2006 8:25 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Just to play the devil's advocate, at what point would it be reasonable to raise the water rates? Why would it hurt to make the town a little extra revenue? Quite frankly I don't care. I prefer Culligan water!

 

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Editor and Publisher:

I'm Cher From McIntosh, FL I'm a graduate student at the University of Florida working on a master's degree in Mass Communication. While I was finishing my undergrad degree in journalism last year, I reported on McIntosh, Fla. for an in-depth reporting class. I figured that the reporting and the public record files should go somewhere people can access them. Reporters don't report to keep the information they find to themselves. Some of that reporting is included here in a forum that allows response. McIntosh suffers because with no news coverage, the local government and the rumor mill have too much potential to run rampant over residents. I moved to McIntosh in the fall of 1999. My profile

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