Fort Payne votes to raise sewer, sanitation rates 3%

Producing waste is getting more expensive in Northeast Alabama. The Fort Payne City Council voted Tuesday to approve ordinances raising sewer and sanitation rates by 3% annually. The move came a day after Rainsville’s Council voted to increase that city’s residential rates for the first time in 16 years.

Fort Payne introduced the measure at its previous meeting and discussed during a work session where Council members learned it would take eight years of annual 3% adjustments to match the $18.40 that county residents pay on average for a similar service. The hike will cost the average resident an additional $1.07 appearing on the monthly bill while businesses will pay $2.40 more, on average, per month for service. Patrick Dunne and Michael Evett, who manage the Sanitation and Sewer departments, said the additional funds are necessary to replace aging equipment and maintain services like brush pickup.

Council member John Smith voted against both ordinances, explaining that he dislikes automatic hikes locked in over time. Council President Walter Watson promised the city will monitor the impact of the rate hikes and not let them become unreasonable.

At the same meeting, Fort Payne’s City Council gave first reading to a proposed ordinance prohibiting out-of-town vendors from entering the city limits to collect and haul away garbage. Three months ago, according to City Clerk Andy Parker, the city lacked sufficient dumpsters and temporarily relied on a third-party company to serve customers. After buying new containers of their own, the city no longer needs them. There’s also concern than the disposal of waste by outside companies cannot be monitored to ensure it is done properly. Parker said the measure includes a provision to provide for the city granting special permission if it is requested and needed. It will be voted on at the Council’s Feb. 16 meeting.

A clean city is critical to local tourism, and Fort Payne Mayor Brian Baine made it clear that he wants the annual Boom Days festival revived this September. A brainstorming session is planned this week, he said.

Last May, the city council canceled the 2020 festival because Council members said they couldn’t justify soliciting businesses for donations to promote a big event while many were still struggling to overcome the loss of sales during the spring shutdown. At that time, local unemployment hovered at a rate of 14.7%.

Boom Days was the North Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association’s Event of the Year in 2012, and in 2015, it was deemed Alabama’s Event of the year, attracting between 12,000-15,000 visitors each autumn, with about 15% of them being overnight visitors, according to John Dersham, president/CEO of DeKalb Tourism.

Baine and other city leaders are also reconnecting with Fort Payne Main Street to get some things back in motion that were postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn.

In other business, the Council:

• approved a resolution to authorize an agreement for the Alabama Department of Transportation to perform rehabilitation on sidewalks from Third Street North to Eighth Street North to make them ADA compliant. Repaving of Gault Avenue has led to crossings becoming a fall hazard for those with mobility issues.

• approved a resolution amending a tax abatement for Pigeon Roast LLC. Parker explained that the manufacturer’s investment increased and the resolution was needed by the state to acknowledge this.

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