The air was charged in Havana’s council chambers late last month, as the quiet, tranquil atmosphere typical of Havana town council meetings was set alight by passionate discussion and debate regarding a recent proposal by the mayor and supporters to offer discounts or other “appreciation” incentives to Havana utility customers.
At the January 2020 regular meeting of the Havana Town Council, Mayor Vernell Ross’ proposal to provide substantial bill discounts to Havana utility customers was met with significant skepticism from most of his fellow council members, who cautioned that such a move – while admirable – would be unsustainable and represent too great a hit to the town’s income and budget. By the meeting’s end, town officials began mulling alternatives to Ross’ costly initial proposal, though no action was taken.
The issue reappeared last Tuesday at the council’s regular meeting for February, but this time, suggestions for showing “customer appreciation” for residents on municipal utilities took on a noticeably more sober tone, with talk of customer rebates and discounts set aside in favor of community cookouts and the like – at least among those seated at the council dais.
The suggestions coming from the audience podium – from Havana residents and utility customers addressing the council last Tuesday night – were undoubtedly more aggressive and included financial incentives for property owners who install tankless water heaters and other energy efficient appliances, as well as various rebate options.
“The City of Quincy tried to do rebates, and they got in trouble,” council member Nick Bert warned. Council Member Dwight Vickers appeared cautiously supportive of the customer appreciation cookout idea floated earlier in the meeting by Mayor Ross and others – proposed for spring 2021.
“Let’s try holding a cookout this one time, and let’s see how it goes,” Vickers suggested. Many seated in the audience, however, were clearly not sold on the customer appreciation cookout idea. Several residents contended that participation and attendance in a community cookout would likely be sparse, thereby making the whole endeavour a “waste of the town’s resources.”
“Cookout” – as proposed by town officials – would mean more than merely a “cookout,” Mayor Ross insisted, characterizing it as more of an “event” – potentially entailing fun activities, entertainment and family friendly attractions. Ross and fellow council members agreed to set up a committee made up of Havana residents and at least one council member to explore the idea further in the coming weeks and months.
Though the question of what “customer appreciation” for Havana utility customers should look like remained largely up-in-the-air – be it cookout, a community event, financial incentives or otherwise – at least one notion was certain, as stated by council member Kathy Johnson last Tuesday, anyway: “When you put information out, make sure that when residents hear what you propose, you don’t just snatch it back from them. Let’s be careful when we put items in the atmosphere.
With the utility customer appreciation matter concluded without official action taken, save the motion to entertain a special customer appreciation committee, council members got to work, voting on and approving the following:
• Approved amendment to ordinance 383 regarding residency requirements of town manager
• Passed resolution 2020-01R, regarding Opportunity Florida’s designation of Gadsden County as a “Rural Area of Opportunity”
• Awarded First Street resurfacing project to Peavy & Son Construction, which submitted the low bid of $194,486
• Agreed to take first steps toward obtaining Municipal Small County Outreach Program (MSCOP) funds from Florida Department of Transportation for Third Street resurfacing project
• Approved monthly subscription to “Diamond Map” GPS Software at the rate of $27 per month
• Approved payment of planning director/contracting planning services of Apalachee Regional Planning Council; director to be paid $55 per hour, not to exceed $5,000 annually
• OK’d closure of downtown streets from Sixth Avenue to U.S. 27 during Havana Main Street’s upcoming Airstream Rally, March 26-29
• Agreed to move forward on obtaining and updating deeds for property south of town to be developed into park; property donated to Town of Havana by local residents, who have requested the park and playground be named after their family members
• Awarded current Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) roofing project – involving nine residential roofs – to Louis Walker Roofing, who submitted low bid of $48,000.
• Agreed to rename Second Avenue “Vernell Ross Avenue” in honor of longtime council member, mayor, coach and community leader Vernell Ross.
• Ivey Funeral Home is hosting a fish-fry “Appreciation Day” from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., April 4 at the Havana City Park. “Everyone is invited.”
• Town Manager Brad Johnson recommended the council and town employees switch email service providers in order to implement distinct/identifying domain, e.g. “xxxx@TownOfHavana.com” versus “xxxx@Mediacom.net.”
• Manager Johnson advised that Havana Mayor Pro-Team DeCorkus Allen will soon begin serving as Gadsden County’s representative on the Capital Regional Transportation Authority (CRTPA) council. Annually, cities within Gadsden County rotate to fill the county’s seat on the council; Havana is up next in the rotation, Johnson explained.
• Johnson reported that the town’s lien on the Main Street property formerly occupied by the hurricane-damaged Alexander’s building has now been satisfied/paid in full, per the Gadsden County Clerk of Court.
• Johnson reported that the town has solicited bids for renovations at the Havana Police Department headquarters on Seventh Avenue.
• Johnson reported that bids for the town’s chief financial officer will close March 5. A request for quotations has been dispatched; the town has budgeted for a $24,000 fixed fee.
• Construction at the town’s new wastewater treatment facility is on schedule, and meetings are still being held monthly to discuss progress and other matters related to the new state-of-the-art treatment plant. Once complete, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will conduct a site visit to OK commencement of operations at the new plant.
• Town Manager Johnson said he spoke with the owners of the now-abandoned former Havana Elementary School, and they have assured him they will clean up the property, making it “presentable.”
• Conference for the Florida League of Cities is set for August 13-15; this year’s conference includes mandatory ethics training.
• Florida Municipal Electric Association – with which the Town of Havana is a part – will host a convention July 28-30 in Palm Beach.
By Sylvia Williams