Benton Council approves suspension of increased utility deposits

Benton City Council took measures Monday night to address a growing concern about increased utilities deposits imposed by Ordinance 14 of 2010.
The council approved a resolution, submitted at the request of the Benton Utilities Commission, to review the section of the ordinance that "provides a method for determining whether or not an increase in deposit should be demanded as a condition of continued service."
The 2010 ordinance adopted customer service rules, regulations and fees for Benton Utilities. It provided for the semi-annual review of business and industrial customer accounts to determine whether the deposit made by these types of customers provides sufficient security. The ordinance was written to provide a means by which repeated late payments by business and industrial customers would result in an additional billing to their account.
Lisa's Bait Shop was one of the business accounts billed an additional $900 for their deposit. Lisa and Steve Spencer are owners of the bait shop and voiced their complaint to the Public Utility Commission on May 7.
When told of the council action, Lisa Spencer commented Tuesday morning that "we were aware of the suspension as of May 7 when Steve, along with four other business owners, went to the (Public Utility Commission meeting). But we are far from pleased with just a suspension at all."
The commission also requested that all pending increases in utility deposits be held in abeyance until a determination is made by the council on whether the ordinance should be modified. A 60-day suspension of all pending utility deposit increases of existing business and industrial customers was approved by the council.
In other business, the council approved allowing Mayor David Mattingly and Chief of Police Kirk Lane to apply for an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grant for the purchase of computer equipment for the police department.
The eight council members present unanimously approved an ordinance amending the policies and practices for the creation of public information officers for various city departments.
According to documents attached to the ordinance, "The Mayor and General Manager of each commission shall designate a Public Information Officer (PIO). The PIO shall review all releases of official information to the public which pertain to the operations or general business of the city or of the commissions. Once the release has been approved, the PIO shall forward the release to the designated recipients. The PIO may be the Mayor, general manager or a designated employee of the city.
"The Mayor shall also have the authority to designate a separate PIO for the police and/or the fire departments. No other employee or volunteer worker for the city and its commissions shall be authorized to disseminate official information to the public and to do so is a violation of this ordinance. This prohibition includes, but is not limited to, releases of information to the news media as well as posting on the Internet."
At the conclusion of the meeting, City Attorney Brent Houston announced that a special meeting of the Benton Parks Commission is set for 6 p.m. today at the Gene Moss building in Tyndall Park. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the reinstatement of Executive Director Curtis McCormack, who had been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into the operations of the concession stand cash account from 2011.
Kitty Smith, a former assistant in the parks department, was terminated as a result of the investigation.
Aldermen Frank Baptist and Joe Lee Richards were absent from the meeting.