Mayor Wanda Penson said former Kingston Police Department Chief Gary Bell, who was also the city’s sole police officer, quit Monday without explanation or giving notice. Though she had hoped not to publicize the vacancy, she believed word quickly went out through the city after Bell quit.
At the end of the work session the council moved to an executive session without having a vote — citing how they could not vote during a work session — to discuss personnel issues relating to the police department vacancy. Kingston will be accepting applications from interested candidates, Penson said, and an ad will likely be running in the near future.
In the short term, Penson said the city would be looking toward the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office for support.
“I tried to call the sheriff and he did not answer and he did not call me back. But our attorney said he does know the situation and they are going to help us,” Penson said. “But we’re going to try to get somebody for sure ... and see if we can get somebody we know will be here at a certain time.”
The work session itself first focused on a presentation from city auditor Lloyd Williamson, who gave the council a refresher on the city’s financial situation relative to the 2013 audit. Williamson said the city was experiencing falling revenues but had more cash on hand due to decreasing expenses during 2013.
City Engineer John Sweitzer followed with a briefing on the city’s options for its water utilities. He said the top two priorities are completing a water audit and acquiring trained and licensed personnel to operate the water system. Council member Harold Posey, and Penson, hoped to have the audit done within a month. In terms of training, Penson said the city was looking at when they would be able to send part of the maintenance crew to take the required courses.
Sweitzer emphasized the importance of finishing the water audit, which he believed would help the city identify how water revenues dropped from approximately $180,000 when Kingston first applied for a loan and grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to $135,000 now.
“But I want to say that getting those finances straightened out is really the overall issue, because you can’t keep doing what you’re doing. You’ve got ... problems like maintaining and operating the water system with no money. You’ve got to do something,” he said.
Sweitzer addressed the $1.3 million loan and $981,000 grant directly, which are intended to repair a portion of Kingston’s water system. The most important need, he said, was to ensure water pressure for a line running along Ga. Highway 293, part of which goes outside the city limits. The line does not provide adequate fire protection, he said, and when a hydrant is used on the line, pressure drops beneath the legally required minimum of 20 psi. Meeting pressure requirements under the plan submitted to the USDA would require a pump station and a water tank.
However, Sweitzer said he had brainstormed an alternative idea.
“The better way, and this is totally dependent on you working with the county, is to go to the county and ask if they will give you a water connection on their large pipe that comes through town, which has high pressure,” he said. “They will give you a connection and a meter and then we put in ... a control valve ... and then you control the pressure and keep it up to the proper level on this.”
When asked for a price tag on the alternative idea, Sweitzer gave a “ballpark estimate” of $100,000. In addition to the cost, he said the county would charge Kingston retail rates for the water that runs through the meter as the county does not have a wholesale price.
In either instance, then, he said the city would have to raise its water rates to pay either the county for its water or the USDA for its loan. Payment options to the county, Sweitzer said, could possibly include a special water district for customers on the 293 line or an across-the-board raise for the city.
Sweitzer emphasized his idea was not set in stone.
“I haven’t really thought this all the way through, but there has to be some kind of understanding about fire flow. ... But that’s just in concept. Now I haven’t done any engineering on it. I just know that’s something that could be made to work,” he said.
When asked how much the city would have to pay each month on the USDA loan, Sweitzer said it could total $6,383 a month. Using that number, and distributing it among Kingston’s 474 water customers, he estimated each customer’s bill would have a debt service amount of approximately $13. After his presentation, he again stressed his figures were not set in any way and could possibly be lower if interest rates were lower and following some discussion with the USDA on other charges. In addition, Sweitzer said SPLOST funds could be used to make the loan payments, which would lower the amount customers would have to pay each month.
Posey asked if it would be possible for the city to take on replacing water lines on an annual basis and do the work piecemeal. Sweitzer said it was possible, but more expensive.
“You’ll get an economy of scale from bringing a contractor in and doing the whole thing. But, obviously at some point, if you’re not going to be able to go forward, you’re going to have to do that. For one thing you need to be replacing water valves, but replacing valves without replacing pipes and all is kind of a waste of money. But it’s essential to do it just to keep you in water,” he said.
After discussing the water utility situation, the council moved on to its SPLOST expenditures. It determined replacing street signs and patching pot holes in city roads were the most immediate projects it needs to take on. Council member Mike Abernathy said he would like to see the city work on potholes during September, citing favorable weather.
The Kingston City Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 8, at 6 p.m. for a work session and 7 p.m. for a regular session.