Openness, accountability, and honesty define government transparency. In a free society, transparency is government’s obligation to share information with citizens. It is at the heart of how citizens hold their public officials accountable.
Vicki Eaton attended the Piedmont City Council meeting Tuesday, July 11. Eaton has many questions that related to the operation of city government and the status of projects she had read about in the newspaper.
Reading the minutes from city council meetings that are posted online, Eaton said she is unable to get an accurate picture of what is happening in Piedmont. The minutes only contain motions and votes. Discussions are not detailed in the city records.
“Many people are not aware of what is going on in the city,” Eaton said. “From reading the minutes of the meetings, I was unable to learn anything.
What Is Being Done to Fill the Walmart Building?
One area Eaton’s concerns is the city’s work to lure business to Piedmont. Walmart closed its store here in January. Since then, the public has been left in the dark about what the city has been doing to attract new business to the community.
“We have an agenda for each meeting and we go through that agenda,” said Ward I Alderman Brian Tutterrow. “If anyone has any questions, we would be more than happy to answer them. It is just that no one has asked any questions.”
Tutterrow said that Piedmont is actively looking for businesses to locate in the city. According to Tutterrow, the Piedmont Area Chamber of Commerce is also actively working to attract new business to the community.
“We are taking a big hit (in revenue),” Tutterrow said. “We have done a lot of research on potential businesses. We are actively trying to get somebody here. Getting somebody here is the problem. We are not keeping anybody out.”
Mayor Bill Kirkpatrick said that negotiations are currently underway with a business that is interested in locating in Piedmont.
“I am not at liberty to share that information until the deal is done,” Kirkpatrick stated. “If you throw too much information out, you can kill the deal.
“I understand that you cannot do that,” Eaton stated.
“This is why I have not opened up about what is going on,” Kirkpatrick continued.
With Walmart leaving, Piedmont lost approximately one-third of its sales tax revenue.
Why Upgrade the
“Every little bit helps when conserving dollars so we can afford to do things when they come up,” Eaton stated. “Whether it is the functioning of the police department. I am concerned about the fact that we are losing a third of our tax revenue and the city is going to spend $35,000 on improvements to the walking trail. I am having trouble wrapping my mind around why we are spending this money. Maybe, you think we have all the money in the world, and we’re good.
“I know that is part of a grant and is matching funds, but why are we spending $35,000? Why are we doing that?”
The walking trail improvement project was underway before Walmart shuttered its doors in Piedmont. The mayor said that the walking trail is an asset and is used by countless people every day.
“We could have possibly said no to the grant, but we felt that the walking trail was an asset that needed to be maintained,” Kirkpatrick stated.
Revenue Loss May Not
Be as Large as Predicted
Mayor Kirkpatrick said that sales tax loss may not be as large as predicted. According to the mayor, the one-third figure was a number that was based on information given by Walmart.
“That is the only number we had to use,” Kirkpatrick said. “Our loss has not been as bad as predicted. Dollar General’s sales have increased as well as other stores’ sales. The loss of Walmart has not hit us as hard as the numbers we projected. I am not saying that we didn’t take a loss. We took a big hit and will continue to take a hit until that building is occupied. But, it wasn’t as bad as we anticipated.”
Paving Projects to
Be Grant Funded
Piedmont is planning to do a paving project this summer. The paving will be grant funded. According to Mayor Kirkpatrick, the grant will provide about $400,000 and the city will contribute $100,000.
“We can’t turn our back on grants,” Kirkpatrick said. “We desperately need to do some paving. When we figured the budget, we allowed for this.”
The walking trail and paving projects are not new. They have been in the planning phase for several years.
“They took much longer than anticipated,” Kirkpatrick said. “This is the second year we have budgeted for paving and the third for the walking trail. It has taken a while to get these projects completed. When they were initiated, we had no inclination that Walmart was leaving.”
Condition of Fire Hydrants
“In December 2014, KFVS12 ran a story about the condition of the fire hydrants,” Eaton said. “At that time, so many needed to be repaired or replaced. If I remember correctly, 90 out of 142 needed to be either repaired or replaced. I am curious what has been done. How is that going.”
Mayor Kirkpatrick said the city replaced a few fire hydrants. Some others were repaired.
“Some that they said were inoperable were not inoperable,” Kirkpatrick said. “They would leak out of the top, but that does not render them inoperable. They leak when you use them. Many, many hydrants leak all across the country.
“I don’t have an exact number of the hydrants we have replaced,” Kirkpatrick continued. “Most of the others are operable.”
“Have any been removed and taken out of service and not replaced?” Eaton asked.
“Not that I am aware of,” the mayor answered.
“They have the correct psi to be functional?” Eaton asked.
“As much as we can provide for them,” Kirkpatrick said. “Some are stronger than others. In order to get more pressure, we would have to address the entire infrastructure.”
Mayor Kirkpatrick said the city has went to great lengths to improve its firefighting capabilities. The fire department has added hose n order to better supply water at a fire scene. A tanker was also added to the city’s truck fleet in order to increase water capacity.
“I appreciate the information,” Eaton said. “I don’t remember seeing any information in the newspaper concerning the fire hydrant project was completed.”
Mayor Kirkpatrick apologized. He said he is too busy to do a regular column for the newspaper to keep residents updated.
Eaton asked for clarification on the Use Tax voters approved in April. She said that she was unsure of how the tax works.
“Anyone who purchases anything from the Internet is taxed at the same rate as purchases within the city,” explained City Attorney Robert Ramshur.
The tax also applies to vehicle purchased made out of state. People were going to other states and purchasing ATVs and did not have to pay sales tax. Not those purchases are taxable.
Eaton said she has researched turbidity and sediment on the internet after reading the mayor’s explanation for discolored drinking water in the city.
Turbidity standards are set by the Department of Natural Resources. The city’s water meets those standards.
“The city recently released its water quality report,” Eaton said. “The water test that was shown in the paper was from February 2016. It was over a calender year before it was published in the newspaper.”
“That was just one sampling,” Kirkpatrick said. “You know what happened when the lake went over the emergency spillway. We had to initiate a boil-water order because we operate a ground-water plant. We had to add alum to our treatment process to get the particles to separate from the water. They become heavier and drop to the bottom.
“We had a lot of sediment get into the lines,” Kirkpatrick continued. “We are having our tanks cleaned to remove the sediment. When that is complete, we will flush the lines again.”
Mayor Says His Door
Is Always Open
Mayor Kirkpatrick said he is always willing to answer constituents questions. He said he can be reached at city hall Monday through Friday during normal office hours.