Public hearing set for Feb. 24 about Palmyra’s proposed utility rate hike
By Mike Arnold, Contributing Writer
The Palmyra Town Council and Utilities Control Board voted during its regular bi-monthly meeting Thursday evening to conduct a public hearing Thursday, Feb. 24, at the town hall on a proposed water and sewer rate increase.
The 7 p.m. forum will precede the council and utilities control board’s second February meeting. The updated ordinance was introduced Nov. 17 and calls for a 15% increase for water and 8% for sewer (not all water customers are also sewer customers). Notices detailing terms of the proposal were mailed to rate payers, and the measure was advertised previously, as required under state statute.
The town has been absorbing higher wholesale water rates from Ramsey Water Co. for two years. It investigated passing along the rate hike in increments during 2020 and 2021, but those adjustments were postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The council began revisiting its options for offsetting the costs last fall.
Attorney Adam Burkhardt said the council was not under any obligation to enact the rate increase during the Feb. 24 hearing, which he said could be adjourned at any point.
“There’s a number of things that can be done,” he added.
Revisions to the draft ordinance, recommended by the council, were captured in the published version, Burkhardt said. He also noted the town may wish to further examine the sewer rate of Morgan Elementary School.
Prior documentation suggests the school’s sewer charges be re-calculated annually, as those costs are based on usage, whereas its water bill is dictated by meter size.
In another matter, the council (Councilman Wyman Lee Childers was absent) voted to install a security light at its sewer plant, located northwest of town off McCracken Road. Sewer operator Gene Dyke pointed to a recent situation where a transformer blew at the sewer plant. He said not only would the light improve safety, but would also make it easier to determine when the plant lost power.
“If we got a streetlight out there, I think we’d be able to tell if we had power,” Dyke said. “I would like to get the brightest one.”
Dyke said he spoke with Harrison REMC and determined the plant’s existing power pole should be sufficient to accommodate the new light. He presented the council with prices for three lights available through REMC.
Council president Virginia (Jenny) Kirkham and councilwoman Christall Ingle voted in favor of installing the light, which will add $14.95 to the monthly REMC bill.
Kirkham, Ingle and the town’s clerk-treasurer, Debra Jones, also discussed recent comments Ingle said she learned of from town employees regarding the town’s time system.
Specifically, Ingle said it was her understanding only those with manager-level access (such as council members) could see accruals of paid time off. In addition, employees are having to add up call-out hours.
“It’s (the time-keeping system) not living up to what it’s supposed to do; it’s not user-friendly,” Ingle said. “If they can’t see what their accruals are, how will they know they’ve gone over?”
Ingle suggested she would like some time to examine the system further and requested Jones follow up with the administrator to determine status of installing its mobile applications.
In addition, two specific payroll matters were mentioned. Jones provided details on resolution of a situation that involved 15 minutes of paid time off and stated her belief that the payroll system was correct. She also agreed to research the possibility that an employee was not accurately credited for eight hours of paid time off. Ingle requested the second inquiry be completed by the end of the month.
“If there’s a dispute, it needs to be addressed,” she said.
In another personnel matter, the council discussed advertising for a new contractor to clean the town hall and community center. That conversation turned to the feasibility that a current town associate could clean for the town, after hours as a contract employee. Burkhardt noted he didn’t see anything on the surface that would prohibit the practice but would research further and report back to the council.
Jones said she would likewise check into the matter, as she believes it could require confirmation of permissibility from the Indiana State Board of Accounts.
During the utility section of the meeting, Dyke addressed the board explaining it was recently necessary for floats to be replaced at several town sewer lift stations. The stations were found to include a significant amount of build-up, which made cleaning necessary. The contractor who oversaw the cleaning and float replacement shared a quote to clean the town’s 12 lift stations annually, at a cost of $800 each.
The council voted to table any action on the proposal. Ingle recommended it pause, so members could review the town’s sewer budget before making any decision.
Recent weather conditions also pressed town employees into service to complete several different duties. Dyke and water superintendent Tim Combs scraped the town streets during a recent snow event. Ingle said she received comments from North Harrison school bus drivers who appreciated their efforts.
Snow removal has been an ongoing council discussion topic. Combs and Dyke agreed using salt would have greatly improved the clearing process; they discussed buying salt and a spreader in bulk and storing for future use.
The council asked that Combs and Dyke research the cost of a salt spreader and present figures to the council at its next meeting.
Combs and Dyke also stayed overnight to monitor the town’s sewer plant during an ice storm that began Feb. 2. They prepared generators in anticipation of power outages.
The council voted to pay both for the extra time spent at the plant.
In other business, the council and utilities control board:
•Signed off on its official 2022 salary ordinance after dates were corrected.
•Agreed to cover costs of annual training classes for Combs and Dyke.
•Completed annual anti-nepotism hiring and contracting agreements.
•Reappointed Ingle to the River Hills Economic Development District Regional Planning Commission and Kirkham to the Harrison County Solid Waste District board.
•Discussed a recent issue regarding prior approval for communications equipment to be placed on a town water tower at Central Barren. The equipment may instead be placed on the tower near Sennville; however, Burkhardt plans to review the lease agreement and will likely discuss with the Palmyra Volunteer Fire Dept., which owns the land at the Central Barren site.
•Received an update from town marshal Dennis Lemmel, who noted his department received a grant for new ballistics vests. Lemmel noted he expects its new radio system to be operational by June. Lemmel also reported one of his reserve officers will attend a chemical breath test school to become a certified breath test operator and that same officer logged 108 hours for the town in December and 85 hours in January.