Hamilton water customers to receive 50% discount in March

Hamilton Mayor Bob Page

By Kathryn “Chazz” Hirschfeld
HAMILTON — Every residential and business water customer served by the City of Hamilton will receive a 50-percent discount on their March water bill.
The Hamilton City Council approved the measure at its Monday, Feb. 5, meeting. Hamilton Mayor Bob Page noted the adjustment is being made to help compensate for the water outage that occurred during the recent ice storm.
The discount does not apply to wholesale customers.
Plans call for each residential and business customers’ bill to be adjusted, so they will be paying half of what they actually owe.
February’s bill, currently due, actually reflect’s December’s usage.
“Every person will pay half their bill for water,” the mayor noted during a work session on the matter the previous week.
“They’ll pay whatever their total would have been for January’s usage--when the outages actually occurred,” he said. “We have a heart for those who went without water, and we’re just trying to figure out how best to work out this discount.
“Let’s figure out a way to take every single bill we send out and cut it in half. We can half every customer’s bill for water and sewer.”
Hamilton Water and Sewer Department Manager Rodney Williams agreed during the work session he felt the discount was a good idea.
After spending some time discussing options, the council agreed the only way to handle the matter  would require water department employees to go in and adjust every single bill.
Water department clerks Tina Stidham and Kim Akers will be joined by city employee Emma Beasley, who helps with the water department, along with a myriad of other duties, with the trio working overtime to create a 50-percent discount through the water department’s billing software for each of the individual 3,500 water customers.
“If you have sewer, it’ll be half the sewer bill, as sewer is always half the amount of the water bill,” the mayor also noted. “The garbage bill will remain the same.”
During the work session, the mayor thanked the city employees, in advance, for working the extra hours it will take to adjust the thousands of bills.
He also thanked them for fielding so many calls from the public during the outage crisis.

Brief recap
and gratitude
The mayor also opened the council meeting by expressing his appreciation to other city employees, persons and organizations involved in helping during the water outage recovery efforts, after briefly recapping the events themselves.
“As you know, we’ve had quite a thing going on in our community,” he said. “We spent several days working with our water system and recovering from a catastrophic ice storm and cold weather that put us down for a few days.
“We’ve recovered nicely, and in all that time, we’ve given away more than 711,000 containers of water, courtesy of the city. We tried to not let people go without water, even though it couldn’t always be through the pipes. We tried to make sure your drinking water needs were not neglected.
“We had some sleepless nights over the situation, and we thank those who spent time in the trenches helping us recover.”
The mayor mentioned a few of those involved, while also apologizing for leaving anyone out.
“Some of those folks (to thank) were the Marion County Emergency Management Agency, the Marion County Commission, the Baptist Mens’ Disaster Relief, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Guin Water and Ramp volunteers. Our attorney (Jeremy Streetman) did a great job getting messages out.”
He also thanked the City of Hamilton’s police and street departments, as well as its “very dedicated water department.” He also expressed gratitude for state representative Tracy Estes and state senator Garlan Gudger.
“And this council I serve with were wonderful and attentive to the needs of people,” he said “And I thank all of you for being such good, splendid people, who worked so hard to make sure we endured and were able to see this through.”
The mayor noted Rural Water had worked closely with the city during the crisis.
“And, of course, we thank Rodney (Williams). Wayne Mays was busy updating our Facebook page. We have so many people to thank, and I hate to start thanking folks, because someone gets left out. But we had more and more folks to help and they get a statement of thanks for helping us through this time.
“We hope we never face it again. We won’t say we won’t, but I hope we have as good a team together if we do have to go through another crisis--a team that’s responsive and dedicated and helps us recover.”
Asked to share the total amount of money the city has spent on water that was donated to the public, he said the amount totalled $50,106.
The city also received two  full semi-tractor trailer loads from the Baptist Mens’ Disaster Relief, and other pallets from charities and other sources.
He noted purchases were also made from Walmart and Coca-Cola, with Coca-Cola donating one pallet of water each time the city purchased five pallets.
“We were able to obtain the sixth pallet for free,” Page said.

Some shows of
clarifying remarks
As most people are aware, the city took a lot of criticism via social media during the crisis. The mayor had also noted during the work session he and some of the council, as well as the water department, also received a great many texts, emails and phone calls in support of the city and its officials during the crisis, with prayers also being offered for everyone involved. He noted he was grateful for the public’s support.
He said he was sorry the recovery period took longer than necessary, but “all in all, I think the city really stepped up,” he said.
He added, “Our people dropped everything they were doing to work on this. They came with an open mind to solve the problems. I think our employees are to be commended, and I don’t think I could work with a better group.”
Concerning the crisis, Streetman said during the work session when he’s been approached about the situation, he tries to explain the city had actually never faced the current issues before.
He noted later what the city first thought was going to be a two-day event, became a much longer event--actually a series of separate events--with some rural customers being out of water up to 14 days.
To clarify the situation, he explained, “First, we lost service due to the breakage in the water lines from the low temperatures and losing so much water and pressure,” he said. “That was repaired and the system started building back up and going at normal. Then, there was a malfunction in the treatment process, leading to a shutdown of the plant.
“That was repaired, but 36 hours later, the same issue occurred, causing a second shutdown of the plant. Eventually, the final repairs to the chemical lines and pumps were done.
(Note: As previously reported, extremely low temperatures for a prolonged period of time led to a calcification of the chemical mix used in the treatment process in a line leading to the pump, which caused the problem in a previously error-free pump.)
“It changed over time,” Streetman said. “We can always go back and say what we could do differently. But the reality of it was--we didn’t know. We’d never had those issues before.”
The mayor had noted during the work session the recovery to outlying areas was his biggest concern during the crisis and in future planning. He explained the city would be working toward putting water source backup plans in place.
He mentioned the treatment plant was still fully operational and working, and the city would be continually monitoring the situation.
Regarding the plant, he noted the city had “spent tons of money on our treatment plant since we’ve been in office.” He asked Williams to explain  work done during his administration.
“Since you’ve been in office, the water department has redone every bit of plumbing  in the pumping station,” Williams said. “We’ve put new impellers in the pumps. We’ve put new check valves in. We even put a flow meter on, so we can see the actual flow. Everything inside the pump station is new. And when we do future upgrades, we will put in bigger pumps.”

Audience remarks,
mayor’s replies
After its regular business was addressed during the meeting on Feb. 5, the council heard from resident Richard Jessen.
“Thank you to the mayor and city council for giving me this time to address everybody,” he said. “I have a couple of things on my agenda here, but most of all, what I want to do here is thank people. Due to the gracious, kind and generous people of Hamilton, we got through the water crisis with minimal hardship. Everybody pitched in. Thank you.
“Also a big thumbs up to the first responders and the city employees of Hamilton. Thank you.”
Continuing, Jessen said he was also trying to make a point and ask a question.
“What can we do to prevent future problems and provide potential growth for Hamilton and Marion County?”
He then proceeded to read a letter to the editor of the Journal Record which was printed on Jan. 31, 2024, written by Joe Hamm.
“He put it better than I ever could have,” Jessen said, “which is why I wanted to read the letter. Thank you, very much.”
Afterward, the mayor thanked Jessen for sharing the letter with the council and remarked on his question about preventing future problems.
“Be it known, we pass a budget every year for our water department for at least $2 million or more, to set aside as water and sewer expenses for the year,” he said. “Many times, we exceed that budget for unknown reasons--things that have to be done.
“But we are doing lots of improvements to not only our water treatment facility, but also to our wastewater treatment facility. In my past administration with this council, we have addressed those needs.
“Currently, for recovery purposes, we are looking for alternative sites to hook-on to. While we maintain our current system, we are also looking for other systems, so if we have another crisis, we want to recover quicker than we did this last time.
“We do have to get permission and engineer these things. We have some studies we’re doing right now, and you’ll be seeing action on those matters real soon also.
“I just want to assure you, we’re not sitting here with our head in the sand and doing nothing. We are aware of our needs, and we do want to grow.”
Before closing the conversation, Page spoke regarding his council. “These folks are astute folks, and they’re going to make good things happen in Hamilton,” he said.


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