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Water woes continue in Walthourville
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Water issues continued to be a problem and a topic of discussion at the May 10 City of Walthourville Council meeting. Former city council member and city resident Patricia Green said her water is sometimes dark and smelly when coming out of her taps. She also complained about low water pressure.

“It’s in my kitchen and in my bathroom, and I have a problem with that, and I would like to have some answers,” she said.

Mayor Larry Baker said the city engineer has plans to make the water line improvements necessary to solve the current problems, plans that he said were 95% complete.

Another resident said she’s lived in the city for 35 years, but recently, specifically in the past few years, issues are getting out of hand. She said her tap water is black and asked when these issues would be fixed.

“And then Wednesday when I look in the paper, you thinking about putting another housing area out here,” Ms. Wells said, referring to an article in the May 4 issue of the Courier about a proposed new development in the city. “You can’t maintain what you have. It’s time this city stops looking at quantity and start looking at quality. We are not getting quality services for what we are paying.”

City attorney Luke Moses reiterated that the city has plenty of water capacity to support the proposed new development, but Wells said capacity and quality are two different things and told Moses that he should come to her house and turn on the water to see just how bad it was.

Moses said he sympathized with her current situation and echoed what Baker said about their plan for improvements being nearly complete. He also emphasized, as he did at the May 4 meeting, that supporting new developments is how the city can grow the revenue it needs to address matters such as this. At the May 4 meeting, council voted to postpone voting on the rezoning request for the new development until more water concerns were addressed.

Council discussed the wish list they plan to present to the County Commission detailing how they would spend Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds allocated to the city. Mayor Pro-Tem Sarah B. Hayes read her list to include public works building renovations and upgrades; park fencing, solar lightning and concrete pads; public safety vehicles and equipment; and a fire department vehicle and an engine. Baker added that funds for road improvements were on his list.

Councilwoman Luciria Lovette requested that council consider finding a way to fund necessary improvements at Johnnie Frasier Park. Baker said the money they recently received from a grant has been earmarked for three specific purposes, and Moses said a budget amendment would be required if the council wanted to pull money from other areas to make the park improvements.

Walthourville Fire Chief Gary Fairchild stood up to defend his department’s budget, saying it is a net zero budget, meaning the exact money he receives is the same amount he expends. He said the amount of money his department was allocated under the grant was to purchase items his department needs that he would not have been able to purchase without the grant.

“We are all hurting in the city when it comes to budgets because we don’t have a funding source to fund our budgets like we should,” he said.

Fairchild said the city needs to figure out a way to sustain its departments or things could get worse. Lovette added that if the city doesn’t do a better job of allocating funds for the sake of the children, the city also loses.

Hayes said council members need to be present during budget meetings for this very reason.

“The bottom line is, we were elected to take care of the citizens and their needs, not our needs,” she said. “When we hold meetings, council members and elected officials need to come to these meetings. It is my opinion you cannot sit back and fuss about the budget being wrong when you didn’t come to the meetings. This city cannot prosper with infighting.”

She said she understands there is a need to fund programs for youth, but park funding was never discussed at the budget meetings, and they need to prioritize major issues, referring back to the city’s water problems.

Police Chief Al Hagan also spoke, saying his budget is just enough to manage his department. He also explained that the federal grant money the city received is earmarked for specific use, and to violate that is a federal crime.

Lovette said the city left millions on the table when grant funds, now expired, were turned away for renovations at City Hall and the police department, but Hagan said it would have been a waste of money to renovate the current buildings to be used for the same purposes.

“We don’t have room to store the chairs in here,” Hagan said. “You could remodel and it could be brand new, but what good is it to us if we still can’t fit? We don’t have room in here to have a meeting or room, really, for anything.”

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