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West Fork Water Commission Down the Drain?

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November 30, 2014 by Steve Winkler

-By Observer Staff-

Did the city council just quietly dissolve the 40-year-old water commission?

During a hearing on Nov. 24, the council passed an ordinance authorizing the issuance of a $350,000 revenue bond to pay for the “planning and design costs, other preliminary expenses and bond issuance costs.”

Detailed in more than ten pages, Ordinance 441 is a temporary bond that will be folded into a permanent bond to pay for construction of a sewer line from West Fork to Fayetteville. The permanent bond will be for $5,8000,000. The city needs the funds from the temporary bond to satisfy requirements for a $1.2 million grant.

But it’s the language buried throughout the ordinance that seems to indicate the dissolution of the water commission entirely, or at the very least, the transfer of its main duties to the city as a whole.

The ordinance declares at the beginning that it is the city that “operates a water and sewage system.” The water commission is currently in charge of the operations. The document states throughout that it will be the city that is directly responsible for the money, duties and operations of the water system, including section seven, that reads, “the city covenants that it will continuously operate the System as a revenue producing undertaking and will not sell or lease the same …”

While the ordinance appears to concern a temporary bond, section 26 of the document states that “all ordinances and resolutions and parts thereof in conflict herewith are hereby repealed to the extent of such conflict.” Such ordinances in conflict with 441’s new directive — that is, the city as the overseer of city’s water system — would be Ordinance 79, which created the Water Commission in the first place, in 1973.

Nowhere in Ordinance 441 do the words “Water and Wastewater Commission” or “Commissioners” appear. Based on the Observer’s understanding of Ordinance 441, it is the city, not the water commission, that collects the money, operates the system, pays all expenses and does repairs and maintenance.
That the autonomous wastewater commission may have been dissolved so quickly and quietly with little public comment is worth discussing. The Public Hearing portion of the meeting was ended and the council opened a special council meeting and proceeded to a vote to suspend the “three readings” requirement and allow the ordinance to be read three times by title only. The mayor then invited comments and discussion by the council. No council member asked a question or made a comment.
The vote was taken and ordinance 441 was passed.

In attendance at the Public Hearing and special council meeting held in the training room at the fire station were Mayor Charlie Rossetti, city attorney Tom Kieklak, city clerk Marsha Hungate, city treasurer Kristie Drymon, utilities director/city business manager Michael “Butch” Bartholomew, council members Throgmorton, Lowry, Rollins, Nelson, Stout, Upton, Sargeant who arrived late. Shafer was absent. Several members of the Water and Wastewater Commission were present including its chair Virgil Blackmon. Also present were aldermen elect John Collins and Kira Hungate. About half dozen member of the public were in the room. The Washington County Observer was present.

When the floor was opened to comments and questions from the public, only the Observer came forward. The Observer asked about the relation between the bonds and the Water Commission, noting that the council’s reason for not dissolving the commission as the voters indicated they wanted done in a 2012 general election was because of the cost of rewriting the existing bonds to reflect that change. Kieklak answered that the ordinance was written is such a way that if at some future date, the city went to another method of managing the system, a committee rather than a commission, for example, it would not require rewriting the bonds.

The Observer also asked why the commission, which is required by a June, 13, 2011 Development Plan to have five members has had a vacancy for several months. Bartholomew offered that the commission was required to only have 3-5 members. Water commissioner Joe Toher addressed the council complimenting the commission on their service.

The Observer obtained a copy of the Ordinance the following day. It is a 13 page document with 25 sections. Much of it contains normal information and instructions relevant to issuance of a revenue bond for a municipality.

There are sections which cover payment schedules, financing fees and the priority of payments derived from revenue routed into various separate funds; a depreciation fund, reserve fund, operation and maintenance fund, as well as sections dealing with default, surplus and record keeping.
Throughout the ordinance there are several references to the operation of the water/sewer system by the city.

The first sentence: “WHEREAS, the City of West Fork, Arkansas (the City”) owns and operates a water and sewer system (the “System”); and………WHEREAS…

Section 7; “The City covenants that it will continuously operate the System as a revenue-producing undertaking and will not sell or sell or lease…etc.

Section 10; from the revenue fund, the city controls the “Water and Sewer Operation and Maintenance Fund,” pays monthly expenses of operation, repair and maintenance of the System for such month …”

Section 21; “The City covenants and agrees that it will maintain the System in good condition and operate it in an efficient manner and at reasonable cost.”

Section 26; “All ordinances and resolutions and parts thereof in conflict herewith are hereby repealed to the extent of such conflict.”

See the full text of the ordinance here.

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Steve Winkler

Steve Winkler is the publisher and editor of the Observer. Email him at steve@wcobserver.com

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