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The Carthage Press
  • City, utility hash out differences in meeting

  • Laughter could be heard in the waiting area of Carthage City Hall on Wednesday indicating that tension that had been building between officials with the city and its utility for two months may be easing.
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  • Laughter could be heard in the waiting area of Carthage City Hall on Wednesday indicating that tension that had been building between officials with the city and its utility for two months may be easing.
    Officials came out of the council chambers confirming they had a productive meeting and discovered the city and Carthage Water & Electric Plant were much closer on most issues than they thought.
    "We resolved a lot of issues and the meeting went amazingly well," said CW&EP Board Member Ron Ross. "We found out we had a lot more common ground than we thought. The larger issues were pretty well hashed out and I think the city and utility staff can work out the smaller issues."
    Mayor Mike Harris and City Council Budget Committee Chairman Jim Swatsenbarg said much of the meeting involved attorneys and it was "a fairly good meeting."
    "We talked about all the issues," Harris said. "We made forward progress and we're going to go on from here. It wasn't like a legal battle, it was opinions. If you will recall as this started, we asked for a legal opinion as far as the city's responsibilities and the board's responsibilities based on code, charter and applicable state statutes. Those were discussed and we're pretty much in agreement on these."
    Tension between the City Council and the CW&EP Board of Directors has been building since March when Mayor Mike Harris presented then-utility board president Ross a draft of an ordinance changing how much the utility pays to the city's general fund and prohibiting the utility from charging the city for electricity and services by utility employees.
    Since then, the City Council Budget Committee has denied a proposed 10 percent hike in water and waste water rates and reduced a proposed bond issue, requested by the utility to renovate the waste water treatment plant to meet expected new requirements from the EPA on ammonia released into the Spring River, from $7.3 million to $6 million by removing a proposed new building at the plant.
    Tensions reached a crescendo last week when Water & Electric Executive Director Bob Williams said City Administrator Tom Short asked him to look the other way when a city department head's home failed an electrical inspection after he installed a new electrical service panel.
    Short denied seeking special treatment for anyone and said the only discussion he had was regarding which electrical code the utility was enforcing. Short said the utility was enforcing a newer code that the city had never adopted, something Williams said he stopped when he learned of it.
    Short said Williams statements were never an issue with him.
    The draft ordinance presented by Harris to Ross in March, was an issue and was discussed at Wednesday's meeting, both side said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Harris and Ross both said they expect a new ordinance to be proposed, with changes.
    "We'll discuss the ordinance and I'm sure it will change to a degree," Harris said. "I can't share specifics, but it was a positive meeting, that was the most important thing."
    Ross agreed that the meeting was positive.
    "We needed to have this meeting and talk things out instead of second-guessing each other," Ross said. "It would have been much better if we had had this meeting on April 9."
    Harris said that meeting had to be delayed when the attorney hired by the city to look into the statutes on municipal utilities, Howard Wright, Springfield, had personal issues.
    Harris and Swatsenbarg both said there is plenty of time to hash out the details of a new budget for the utility and finish the city's budget before the new budget year begins on July 1.

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