Retreat, utility rates talk of Hogansville town hall

Published 9:08 pm Friday, March 9, 2018

HOGANSVILLE — There was a standing room only crowd Thursday night at the Hogansville Public Library, as many in the city came out to express their opinions during the city’s quarterly town hall meeting. Utility rates were the most common topic of the night, with many residents asking questions about their bills.

However, the biggest stir might’ve been caused by former Hogansville councilman Jimmy Norred, who didn’t run for re-election and last served on the council in December.

Norred questioned why the council held a retreat in February that he said cost taxpayers more than $1,000, according to information he said he gathered through open record requests.

“Can anyone up here on this council tell me what that retreat cost the taxpayers?” Norred asked. “Allow me to enlighten you. Each one of you are always talking about trust issues, openness and transparency. Being open and transparent about this thing there was $480.25 spent for the facility at the Newnan Centre in Newnan, Georgia. There was $530.13 that was spent for food from Kimble’s Food Vending out of LaGrange. My question is, or my concern is, how can this council sit before the citizens of Hogansville stating you have the best interest of the taxpayer at heart when evidently the small stuff doesn’t matter? Why couldn’t that meeting have been held in Hogansville?”

The retreat was held at the Newnan Centre on Feb. 12 and was open to the general public.

Mayor Bill Stankiewicz said that other cities hold similar retreats each year.

“It’s an opportunity to get away and talk about issues that are a concern,” Stankiewicz said. “There’s no action taken in that retreat, although it would be perfectly legal. We took no action. And it’s very typical, and I believe it’s necessary.”

Norred called the retreat “irresponsible.”

“Mayor, with all due respect, you can try to legitimize that all you want to, but when you have council members who instruct our staff to stop making color copies to save money, well we need to start holding them accountable to every penny that is taxpayer money,” Norred said.

Norred also clarified that he went on three retreats while he served on the council.

He said in an interview after the town hall that he had never brought up the financial aspect before, but had questioned whether the council needed a retreat when he was a councilman.

“Each of you know I was on this council until this year, and I went to three of those retreats myself,” Norred said. “And I know what you were doing was not a retreat.”

Norred also discussed $2,500 allocated to each council member for training. He said after the first year or two the training is unneeded.  There was a lot of discussion on utilities, especially after a water outage lasted much longer than anticipated earlier this month. Several people asked why there had been an increase because their bills were much higher in recent months.

“Council has not approved any increases that I’m aware of. Council sets rates, and we have not increased rates,” said City Manager David Milliron.

One woman asked why the city doesn’t start at one end of Hogansville and replace sewer lines from one side of the city to the other.

Milliron said it’s not that simple, and noted the city is working the biggest problem areas first.

Others asked if the water is safe to drink, referencing air that remains in the water after a planned outage earlier this month.

“The answer is unequivocally yes,” Milliron said, referencing tests by the department of public health that allowed the boil water advisory to be lifted.

The council also discussed ways to reach more people for planned outages. That was discussed during Monday night’s council meeting as well since many in the community didn’t get the message. Milliron said Monday that many of the people called hung up on a message about the planned water outage. The outage was also posted on the city’s social media accounts and sent out to media outlets through press releases.

Milliron said another problem is most people’s phone numbers are not in the system, but that space will be provided on an upcoming utility bill for everyone to get their information added to the robocall.

Milliron said even Stankiewicz’s number wasn’t in the system. Others were worried that money was being used for anything other infrastructure.

“We have got folks on the west side who have 3-inch water mains. They don’t have any water pressure. Twelve PSI is what they’re averaging,” said resident Jason Miles. “Do you want to take a bath with that? But we are worried about coming over here and building more houses. Let’s worry about what we’ve got first. Let’s build a pump station. Let’s put this money where it needs to be used.”