By MARK EVANS
All four St. Mary city aldermen voted for adoption of an ordinance that allows the city to cut off residents’ utilities for unpaid city taxes at last Thursday night’s meeting.
Some residents who attended complained that they were not given a chance to comment on the ordinance before the board unanimously voted in favor of it.
The meeting agenda typically has a “public forum” early-on, which Mayor Carlton Wyatt explained is occasionally used for experts to explain projects to the board.
At the bottom of the agenda is “citizens participation.”
Meanwhile, following Robert’s Rules of Order, typically, a proposed ordinance is read, then a motion is made to pass or reject it and is seconded. Once the motion and second are made, the person conducting the meeting typically calls for discussion – although this is normally discussion amongst the board members.
St. Mary, actually, has moved from Robert’s Rules of Order to the slightly less complicated Rosenberg’s Rules of Order.
Many government entities have debated whether the citizen input portion of meetings should be held prior to votes on pending ordinances or other topics, to allow opinions to be aired about those issues.
After a motion was made to pass the slightly-amended ordinance to make payment of city taxes a condition for receiving city utility services, Wyatt called for discussion.
“Anybody got any comments?” were his exact words.
Alderman Zen Duda immediately asked whether a resident who is disconnected would have to pay a reconnection fee in addition to paying the back taxes.
“Anytime the water gets turned off, you have to pay a reconnection fee,” Wyatt said.
It was noted that the reconnection fee is just $20.
Alderman Karl Schultz then brought up hardship cases. Wyatt replied that the city “will follow any Missouri state law” and any other law “we’re obligated to.”
Duda asked if justification of hardship needed to be in writing or if it could be verbal.
“It would have to be proven to our satisfaction,” Wyatt said. “We would have to see some kind of documentation.”
Wyatt said small-town knowledge would also be used, to determine who can and cannot afford to pay the taxes, He also pointed out that many of the tax totals owed are just a few dollars.
Schultz later said he would like the ordinance to specifically state that it was following state law in granting hardship exemptions. Wyatt said that would not be necessary, since it would be illegal for it to not follow the law.
The revisions to the bill give residents until the end of March to pay their taxes, which were due on Dec. 31. It also changes the original version to give residents two days’ notice before utilities are disconnected. In the original version, no notice would be given.
After the discussion, the mayor asked, “Anybody else?” Hearing no more comments, he called for the vote
Audience member Frank Gerardot asked if public comments would be taken before the vote.
“We had comments while ago,” Wyatt said. “You didn’t speak. You’re done now. I asked if anybody else had anything to say.”
When Gerardot said his hand had been raised, Wyatt said, “Well, you should have hollered.”
Meanwhile, audience members had objected earlier to the traditional practice of reading the ordinance by heading only before voting. The board agreed to have city manager/city clerk David Woods read the entire ordinance instead – something almost never done at public meetings.
OTHER BILLS PASS ON FIRST READING
Two bills (potential ordinances) passed on first reading. Both will get second readings at the April meeting.
One ordinance requires a free city permit for “any building, shed, mobile, home, swimming pool or playhouse” to be demolished It also covered disposal of materials and put a 30-day cap on the demolition process.
It passed 4-0 with minimal discussion.
The final bill, though, which would allow utilities to be turned on during renovations or repairs being made to a building, did generate some debate.
In the past, water and power would not be turned on until a building passed inspection – something difficult to achieve without water or power.
Duda and Wyatt also disagreed on points of this bill.
Part of Duda’s concern was the wording. It reads, “Between occupancy permits, water and sewer can only be used for remodeling, construction, toilet usage, lawn and gardening. No water can be used for cooking or personal hygiene.”
Duda said that “personal hygiene” might be stretched to include washing one’s hands after using the toilet.
He also had concerns about law enforcement entering buildings to enforce compliance.
In the end, he voted against it. It passed by a 3-1 vote.
CITY HALL COULD HOUSE LIBRARY
Woods showed the board an email from Shawn Long, director of the Ste. Genevieve County Library asking if St. Mary would like a presence of the library in town and offered three options.
It was agreed that having a shelf of books in the City Hall building that could be checked out would be handy. Wyatt stressed, though, that City Hall is a place of business and that people would not be able to sit around and read in the building.
DEPARTMENT REPORTS GIVEN
A few department reports were then given.
Fire chief Frankie Ullman reported that the department lent mutual aid on three fires. One for Ozora and two for Ste. Genevieve. The new pumper truck is running well. They replaced the water valve and have bids on the decals. It will soon be in service. There are two new fire fighters and Ullman is working on grants.
Woods, who is also city emergency management director, that the recent stimulus package includes money for municipalities. He said he will believe it when it happens and wants to know what strings are attached with dispensing of the funds. He will keep the board informed.
Police chief Adam Bequette said he had nothing to report and Alderman Ron Barnett said the street department needed to order cold patch material.
Cody Myers reported that one rotor is down at the wastewater plant and two bearings are down because of the 13 days of below freezing that froze the wastewater and strained the system. Wyatt praised the employees who spent hours breaking up the ice at the plant. He said they “went above and beyond” the call of duty, in the elements. There was a clog on Seventh and Pine that has been eliminated. They spent hours identifying and marking valves that are not functional or still hooked up to non-capped old lines.
Duda said he went to Dogwood Veterinary Hospital and Cape Girardeau Humane Society to find out what they can do to help the city with its stray cat issue. Duda said if the city can trap them and deliver them, they will be sterilized and notched in their ear for $25.
Meanwhile, Wyatt reported that because of the Trinity Baptist Church Easter Egg Hunt that the park had to be safe. The deteriorated pavilion was torn down. One restroom has a problem, but the other is functional. The baseball infrastructure is being removed and possibly being replaced with a soccer field. Wyatt suggested removal of all the fencing.