Citizens pack council chambers for meeting

| February 9, 2016
Meeting: Council chambers was packed for the Feb. 8 meeting that included discussion on a proposed water rate increase that will be passed on to citizens. Beacon photo by Josie Sellers

Meeting: Council chambers was packed for the Feb. 8 meeting that included discussion on a proposed water rate increase that will be passed on to citizens. Beacon photo by Josie Sellers

COSHOCTON – City Council heard from several of the concerned citizens who packed council chambers at their Feb. 8 meeting before giving a first reading to an ordinance intended to raise water rates.

Many of them wanted to know what was being done with money left over in the general fund, some questioned the raises that government officials are receiving and others questioned how they could possibly afford to create a new position for someone to enforce ordinances if the city is in such dire need of money. However, there were a few people like Stan Braxton who were at the meeting to show council their support.

“I don’t feel like $5 is so much of an increase that it needs to cause a break or fraction in the city,” Braxton said. “I just hope council has a five to 10 year plan to deal with the issue and the fact that not having water outside of the city is a setback in our infrastructure.”

Council is considering raising water rates to help counterbalance the impact of WestRock closing.

“Their closing is probably the hardest hit the city has taken from all the plants that have closed over the years,” said Mayor Steve Mercer. “Others started gradually scaling back and we adjusted because we knew they were on life support. This plant had been here for 150 years, but a decision was made in a corporate board room to close it and that will affect us in so many ways. They were a great employer and paid well and used nearly half of what was produced at our water plant and that helped subsidize a low rate.”

Utilities Director Dave McVay said they have already cut $700,000 from the budget and are doing all they can to keep water rates as low as they can with most customers looking at a $5 increase.

“Even with a 34 percent increase our rates are still so low that we fall in the bottom half of the state,” he said. “We need to do everything we can to keep our water plant and the ability to provide you with soft water. You can’t run a water softener for the amount your bill is projected to go up.”

Some citizens at the meeting also expressed concern about a proposed cell phone tower going up on Coshocton High School property.

“I live in a decent neighborhood and that cell phone tower is just going to decrease my property value,” said Donna Bordenkircher. “With the water bill, I don’t know where that money is going to come from. I didn’t get a raise.”

Safety Service Director Jerry Stenner said there is unfortunately nothing the city can do to stop the cell phone tower from going up.

“We turned it down, but it’s a fight we can’t win,” he said. “It’s considered necessary and a utility.”

Ray Young who lives in the area where the tower will go asked why it had to go there.

Stenner said they asked the same question, but were never given a definite answer by SBA, the company who wants to build the tower.

City Law Director Robert Skelton was told the city would be sued if they didn’t allow the tower. He asked for time to review Federal Communication Commission rules, but SBA instead sued the city. Skelton then turned the case over to lawyers provided by the city’s insurance company who are more familiar with federal litigation.

“If we proceed with this and lose we will have to pay SBA’s attorney fees and that will cause further budget problems for us because they will be high priced lawyers from Cleveland or Columbus,” Skelton said. “I’ve been assured that we can’t win this and are not in a position to fight.”

Ordinance 3-16 will allow the city to settle with SBA without any cost to them and Skelton asked that council approve it by the end of the month.

The Feb. 8 meeting was the first one for new Councilman Roger Moore who was selected by the Republican Central Committee to replace Bob Pell who resigned at the end of 2015 and it also was attended by Boy Scout Troop 402.

“You should get double badges for tonight,” said Stenner. “You picked a good night to attend and see citizens speak and help us figure out how to look at things and adjust.”

Council President Cliff Biggers was encouraged by the turn out.

“It’s good to see you bring your comments and concerns to us,” he said to those in attendance. “We work for you and want everybody to have the opportunity to get the answers they need.”

He suggested that citizens call the clerk in advance of meetings with their questions so council can do research to get them answers by meeting time.

Council work sessions are held at 5 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of the month in city hall’s conference room and full council meetings are at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of the month.

The meeting also included a moment of silence for the Cheryl Triplitt Wantuck who was an advocate for downtown Coshocton and organized the First Friday celebrations.

“Her leadership will be missed,” Stenner said.

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About the Author ()

I started my journalism career in 2002 with a daily newspaper chain. After various stops with them, I am happy to be back home! I graduated from Coshocton High School in 1998 and received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 2002 from Walsh University. I also earned several awards while working for daily papers, including being honored by Coshocton County’s veterans for the stories I wrote about them. I am honored and ready to once again shine a positive light on Coshocton County. I also am the proud mother of a little girl named Sophia!

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