Glenn Harris, the city's code enforcement inspector, received council's approval to spend $953.17 to add an intersecting culvert near city hall, in an attempt to locate a large blockage in a 10 inch pipe that runs from behind the building to the creek near Santee Drive.
Harris explained a company had already attempted to clear the blockage, which puts city hall in danger of flooding during large rains. He said the 5,000 pound jet was unsuccessful in locating the blockage and, by installing the culvert, they could once again try to unclog the drain. Currently, the city has a sump pump with emergency power connected to prevent flooding in the event of a large rainfall, but flooding of city hall is still possible as long as the line remains clogged.
In addition to the drainage issue, Harris told council after an examination of city hall cooling bills over several years, he determined that the city's utility bills increase by $400 -$500 over the summer months. Harris said the building lacks attic ventilation. By adding 8 turbines on the building, the cost could be reduced by 25 to 30 percent, and the $1,000 cost of the turbines would be recouped in two to four months.
Council asked Harris to prepare bid proposals for the project, and present them for approval during the August meeting.
Cherokee Village Fire Department Captain Johnny Pendarvis addressed council seeking permission to apply for a grant to hire two additional firefighters for the city.
Pendarvis explained the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant was a 100 percent grant from FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security which would fund firefighters salary and health insurance for two years.
The grant was quickly challenged by Alderman Lynn Maxedon, who cited concerns that the grant did not pay the LOPFI retirement portion of the firefighters income. "This fire department is the biggest budget problem, has the highest paid fire department in the area -- earning more than the mayor and clerk combined -- and is a third of the budget. So, no, I would not be agreeable to hiring two more firefighters," Maxedon said. Alderman Tom Thone agreed with Maxedon and discussion ensued about options to replace Chief Taylor, who will be retiring in February of 2013.
Alderman Verna Mae Newman said, "If we apply for the grant, we don't have to take it do we?"
Thones responded, "I don't think we need to go applying for a grant and turning it down."
Alderman Russ Stokes chimed into the conversation, comparing the grant to one the city's police department applied for to fund an officer under the prior administration. "After two years, the city had to fund his salary after the grant ran out. I am going to vote with the city's pocketbook in interest to the budget."
The council finally agreed to allow the fire department to apply for a grant to fund one firefighter. Everyone, with the exception of Stokes, voted in favor of the recommendation.
The most heated topic of discussion involved the city's recent discovery that 383 homes on Lake Cherokee, Sequoia and Thunderbird were placed in the flood plain by FEMA, as it updated flood plain maps. The designation leaves homeowners with the option of purchasing costly flood insurance, when they might not need it, or paying to have a survey done to determine if their home is above the 5,000 foot flood elevation established in a FEMA flyover.
The issue has sparked the concern of realtors trying to sell homes, and those building homes while waiting for the issue to be resolved.
The issue arose when the previous flood plain administrator, Liz Keel, failed to file an objection to the flood plain map in the required time frame. The city then passed a Flood Plain Mitigation Plan that showed the city's approval, based on the flood plain manager not filing the objection to the map. The map put the homes on the lakes in a flood plain, requiring flood insurance, despite not being a flood risk.
Each city in the county has a flood plain administrator, and each are stand-alone entities responsible for enacting mitigation plans.
The county's rural areas are covered by Kathy Nix, the county's flood plain administrator. Nix explained that, in 2010, FEMA did a flyover of the lakes in Cherokee Village when they were updating maps and put them at a 5,000 foot flood plain elevation.
Each city in Sharp County had to decide whether or not to pass a Flood Plain Mitigation Plan, and were given time in which to object to the maps. Nix said the county passed an ordinance with five changes in rural areas, that would allow people to get cheaper flood insurance. Those were for areas that flood, unlike the lake homes.
The options discussed for homeowners in the disputed flood plain designation area were to collectively pay Lindley Surveying to survey the land and determine it's base flood elevation, taking them out of the FEMA designated flood plain, or to get the city and SID to split the estimated $28,725 cost for the survey, plus a small fee for having the properties taken out of the plain.
Because of SID's interest in the lakes, it had agreed to pay half the expense, leaving the remaining $14.362 up to the city council.
Members of planning and zoning, including Harris and Tom Hrezo, felt that it was in the city's best interest to insure the protection of the homeowners and to pay for the survey. Council members, however, were less inclined to agree.
Alderman Curtis Bratcher said, "This is not the city's problem."
Concerns voiced from the audience included people wanting to build, but holding out until the issue is resolved. They expressed concern that property values may go down, because people might sell their homes to avoid the high cost of the insurance.
One audience member said, "If it is the city's mistake, the city should take care of it. This has been going on since 2011." Many homeowners were not aware of the flood plain designation of their homes until their home insurance policies came up for renewal.
Former Alderman Peter Martin expressed the opinion that the city can not spend money on private citizens, thus making it illegal for the city to pay the survey cost. He invited city officials to contact their auditor with the question, stating he was currently in town. City attorney Jon Abele said, "This is not cut and dry."
Council agreed to have Harris compile a list of the property owners affected by the flood plain designation, and to contact them about the expense of collectively going forward with the survey, which was estimated to cost each person about $75. It was made clear that, for the surveyor to be able to perform the surveys for the $28,725 cost, they all must participate.
Keel, who was present at the meeting, said it was important to note that each homeowner will not receive an individual certificate that their homes are not in the flood plain. It must be a collective one, containing all the homes that were determined to not be in the flood plain.
The topic was tabled until the August meeting.
The Cherokee Village City Council meets the third Thursday of each month at 6:30 at Cherokee Village City Hall. The public is always welcome to attend.