City Board stops Mayor’s directives in special meeting

Published 6:18 pm Saturday, July 24, 2021

Batesville city board members voted 5-0 to in a special called meeting Saturday afternoon to overrule Mayor Hal Ferrell’s directives to officials in both the Water and Code Departments Friday by approving an order that prohibits the issuance of any permits to the owner of a property on Vance Street, and further states the owner must come to the next regularly scheduled board meeting with any request for the project that caused the political tift.

Aldermen were reportedly angered by the mayor’s alleged requests that permits be waived, or at least issued without going through normal channels, for a property owner on Vance Street.  The matter flared Friday when city workers questioned the direct instructions, saying the request to circumvent the permit progress amounted to fraud and was clearly in violation of laws and regulations set up by the Code Office. Superintendents are accustomed to taking directions from Public Works Office, and not from board members or the mayor.

Usually such matters would be settled at the next regular meeting, or sometimes in special meetings during regular work week hours. Rarely, if ever, has the board called a weekend meeting to deal with an issue other than natural disasters or health and safety of the community.

“This is just how serious this board is about following the codes of the city and the permit process no matter who you are,” Alderman Stan Harrison said after the meeting. “No one in this city is above the rules, not me or Joe Blow or anybody else. This is something that we as board wanted to deal with and not wait until Monday because it affects the city employees who are trying to follow the codes and do their jobs.”

Harrison declined to comment on any other matters discussed but noted that Alderman Bill Duggar made the motion and Alderman Dennis Land provided the second, which was made soon after the board convened at 3:30 p.m. Aldermen Harrison, Walton, and Vice-Mayor Teddy Morrow all supported the motion.

Essentially, the board order will require the owner of the property with the project in question to explain his or her intentions personally. The owner already has city water, sewer, and gas services at one address on the property and is seeking to add service at another structure on the property.

Codes require permits for some of the work the owner wants to finish, and for separate gas and water taps, or hookups, for the project. Bypassing the permit process and the Water Department’s tap requirements would save the owner a considerable sum, money that other property owners routinely pass the city for the same services.

The costs of utility service taps and meters has been a topic of several discussions among board members at meetings over the past few months. Public Works Director David Karr has outlined several options for the board to address the installation of taps and meters and adjusting the charges to fit the various cases that come up.

Karr has repeatedly told the board that some service hookups seem too expensive, but the costs of materials and labor for taps and meters can also be hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars that the city simply can’t afford to absorb in every situation. Also, the rising costs of performing bores under city streets – to avoid cutting through concrete and asphalt and patching the pavement – has been discussed of late.’

With the steady growth of Batesville, the growing pains of infrastructure expansion will likely be the topic of coming discussions at city board meetings.

Whether the owner of the Vance Street property will appear before the board to seek the needed permits and pay the regular associated fees is unknown, but will be posted on the official agenda released by City Hall, usually three days before meetings.

The next regular meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen will be Aug. 3 at 2 p.m. at City Hall.