Highland City Council met in their regular monthly session March 6 at Highland City Hall. The city's acceptance of the donation of property in Hidden Valley and a continuance on the issue of the sewer hook up for the Poulsen family were the main topics of discussion.
During the city's department reports, Highland Mayor Jerome Norwood complimented the city's police department with their cooperation and help working with other departments during the recent AAA State Basketball Tournament held at the A.L. Hutson Memorial Center in Highland. The mayor and members of the council said they had a lot of compliments on the organization of the three night event.
City Clerk Mary Ruth Wiles gave her monthly report and noted that sales tax revenues were up $944.44 from February 2009. She said the city has budgeted for a truck for the city's street department but assured council the city was within budget, and it was something that may need to be amended at a later date. Norwood informed council the city was still due monies from the 2008 disasters and ice storm. He said the city is owed over $75,000 but FEMA was waiting for Congress to replenish the money so it can pay those it still owes.
Next on the agenda was discussion regarding possible options to the sewer hook up for Pam and Steve Poulsen, the couple who have yet to hook up to the sewer system, despite letters from the city attorney. This has been a long standing issue that goes back to the first phase of the sewer system nearly four years ago. The issue has basically come down to a "he said, she said" event. The Poulsens have not hooked up to the sewer system or installed a grinder pump and claim they have had issues with a previous contractor for the sewer system and despite the word of several city officials said they have never told anyone they weren't allowed on their property to perform the installation. This issue was again carried over from last months meeting, Alderman Larry Allen said, "For 4 years we have sat here and pointed fingers at each other and accused everybody of lying of not doing what they are supposed to do; it is time we put this duty to rest." Allen continued, "Let's quit pointing fingers at each other; let's do something about this. I recommended and my motion was that if we've got enough money in this new sewer thing, let's install this tank and they still pay to hook it up to the house. As I understand it, all they really need is the grinder pump." At this point discussion ensued regarding whether or not the city would also do the same thing for another resident who, like the Poulsens has yet to hook up to the system.
Alderman Joe Black added, "If we pay theirs and this guys, do we pay for everybody else's that comes along? We are talking about city money here." The general consensus among most of council was that it wasn't fair for one person to get something everyone else was required to pay for. Alderman David Harris then commented on a story in a Jonesboro paper that in his opinion made the city of Highland look like they are an establishment that was out to get the people, referring to the option of the city possibly placing a lien on the Poulsen's property to secure the money for the hookup. Harris then told council something he claimed he has kept to himself until this point. He told members of council that, the sewer went behind the Poulsens house on an easement; they turned in a huge $2,000 bill to council for trees cut down in their yard that were beyond the fence. Despite the Poulsen's accusations that they never told anyone to stay off their property, Harris said, "I will swear on a bible that Jerome and I were told to stay off the property." He went on to say that the two had walked the easement behind the house.
Harris said they told Wiles, if the city wasn't going to pay for the trees, they could forget the sewer. Wiles then corrected Harris by stating that the Poulsens said, if the former contractor wasn't going to pay for the cut trees, they could forget the sewer. Harris said he feels the council should know, "This is why this hasn't been done." Jerome also added the trees were on an existing easement prior to when the project came through.
Allen then reiterated and expanded upon his original motion for a possible vote saying, "If there was money in the new sewer project, my motion is, if there is, lets put a grinder pump in for them at no cost and they have to pay cost to hook it up." Allen said the family was, "Entitled to it, it is that or throw them out of their house and he would rather find a way to do this without throwing them out. Either vote it out or vote it in, Let's either put up or shut up; let's either throw them out or put a septic tank in for them. Let's quit piddling around with them."
Discussion then continued with Harris stating that if the city were to do this for them, there could be 50-60 residents (75 percent of the 80 who haven't signed up) who would also want to get the grant money too. Norwood interjected and told council the others already have everything they need, but they need to hook it up to the house. They are still using the septic systems and paying the monthly bill like they are hooked up to the sewer system. Joe Black expanded on the point made by Harris stating, "No one wants to throw them out, but why should these people pay if you're letting somebody else not pay, it is a fact we can't support everybody." Alderman Woodrow Pardue then added, "If the city puts in a grinder pump, who says they will hook up to the system?" Other members of council told him there are many others who aren't, to which he replied that they were in violation of a Federal Code. That if there is a sewer system within so many feet you have to hook up to it. By this time it is obvious that Allen's motion was not going to receive a second, so the council proceeded with other options. Black asked why the Poulsens can't make some type of financial payment agreement with the city. Wiles then interjected and refered to a previous meeting when City Attorney Jon Abel urged the family to negotiate a plan before the work began, at which point there was no other option but for the city to obtain a lien on the property, something that was never the city's intention. In addition to the cost of court, the couple can also face a 20 percent penalty. Abele said they couple has been told three times they need to take care of this matter. He explained in an earlier meeting that the city has an obligation to continue with the second phase of the sewer project in a timely manner.
Alderman Jack Kimbrell then made a second motion as an alternative to Allen's motion. He said he felt the issue isn't a money issue to some degree, but more of who is going to hold out the longest and be the most hard headed. Kimbrell agreed there are a lot of issues with it on both sides. He said, "Sometimes you have to grit your teeth and bear it and move on. We have to look at what is best for the city." He said he would like to make a motion to authorize the mayor to negotiate with the Poulsens to set up an acceptable payment plan to have it installed and try their best not to have a lien put on the property. The motion was seconded by Harris.
Norwood asked council what they would consider a reasonable amount of time as well as a reasonable payment amount because the Poulsen's are not only responsible for the initial cost of the grinder pump.