By Ken Ross, Managing editor
A proposal for a fee schedule for responses by the Cherokee Fire Department has again gone back for revision before a vote by the Cherokee City Council.
After discussions at city council meetings and strong objections at the May 24 meeting, a previous ordinance proposing a fee schedule for fire department responses was rejected by the council and modifications requested.
Fees for fire safety inspections and fees for a response to a residential or vehicle fire in the city limits were to be eliminated from the schedule of fees. The fees for response to commercial or industrial fires would still remain in the new ordinance proposal because insurance companies pay for such charges. In general, insurance companies do not pay fees for fire department responses to a residential or vehicle fire.
The ordinance presented at the council meeting on Tuesday of this week did not have the changes in wording as indicated. It will be brought back at a future meeting.
Another proposed ordinance would have added a surcharge onto the water bill for the purpose of supporting the fire department, but consideration of that ordinance was dropped after the council was informed by Wally Miller, Jr., attorney for the city, that the surcharge could not legally be imposed.
"You can call it a surcharge or whatever you want, but it is basically a tax and the state doesn't allow a city to impose a tax that it hasn't authorized," Miller explained.
Miller noted that the list of taxes a town may impose is a short one. The basic property tax for the general fund is set at a maximum by the state. Cherokee, like most other towns, is at this maximum. In addition, the debt service levy, which is part of the total property tax, is used for bonds to make capital improvements. It is currently servicing a debt in Cherokee close to the maximum allowed by state law.
User fees for such services as water, sewer and trash pick-up (and in the future, certain fire department calls) can be set at whatever is needed but all such fees must go directly to the specific service given. A surcharge on a utility for a general fund purpose is not authorized by the state.
Mary Benson, who lives on Gillease Street, complained to the council about a neighbor who often has a fire burning within a metal ring, sometimes over night.
Benson referred to the city code on the type of material being burned and other restrictions on fires. She said the type of fire in her neighborhood violated city code.
Benson indicated that it was both a health and safety issue and that contact both with the neighbor and the police department had unsatisfactory results. She was informed that the matter would be looked into.
The city council decided to proceed with the sale of a vacant lot (actually two lots, 110 and 112 South Fourth Street to be sold as a single parcel) at the request of Robert "Ben" Jobe, owner of Jobe's Past Time next to the vacant lot.
The city will hold a public hearing as required by law and determine a minimum bid.
Over two years ago, the city council put a vacant lot at 112 South Fourth Street up for bid with a minimum bid requirement of $12,500. Jobe was the only bidder for the property at $1,000. The bid was rejected and the area became a parking lot.
The city council set a minimum bid at $200 each for two vacated streets it is trying to sell. After some discussion, the council decided to set such minimums on a case by case basis rather than have a general minimum bid.
The council decided after discussion, not to act on a request by Gene Anderson, owner of Bonanza Car Wash, to provide relief on the charges made to that business for water and sewer.
Dwight Varce, council member, commented that Anderson made a well researched presentation at a previous meeting but concluded, "How can we afford to offer a discount and operate."
Bill Troth, council member, stated that if one business was given a break on fees, then all commercial properties would have to be given a different rate than the residential rate. "Then we'd have everybody unhappy," Troth said.
The council approved the following nominations to the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation Board:
Mark Hecox, Ramona Nitz and Tim Haupert.
The council approved $74,744.26 in black topping projects by Blacktopping Service Co. of Humboldt.
When asked why there was only one bidder on the projects, Ron Strickland, city administrator, said that the company that bid was the only one with a blacktop plant in Cherokee County and that the mobilization cost would be too great to come very much distance.