City Council members voted 8-1 Tuesday to schedule a public hearing on the creation of a regional wastewater authority—initiating a process that could have overarching implications for water and sewer utilities in the Chattanooga area.
The informational meeting is open to the public and will take place at 6 p.m. on Dec. 12 in the City Council Building, located at 1000 Lindsay St.
Casting the lone no vote against the measure was Councilwoman Deborah Scott, who said both council members and city residents ought to have more information made available to them ahead of time in order to attend the meeting prepared.
"My fear about this is we will not have the information that the publican and the people who are working in the city need to know ahead of this hearing in order for them to have ideas and comments," Scott said during the council's afternoon agenda session. "If this is the public hearing where people say what they think about it, they need to have a proposal of some sort to have enough knowledge to even comment on it."
Several council members voiced disagreement with Scott, saying the meeting was fulfilling the very thing she was after. Councilman Peter Murphy suggested the initial meeting would be enough in getting conversation started to drive future decisions.
"I think this is exactly the right direction to go," he said.
Councilman Jack Benson commended Mayor Ron Littlefield for bringing the discussion to both the council and the public in its early, "exploratory" stage.
But despite the initial public meeting being scheduled for next month, Littlefield has been long at work on the idea of forming a regional wastewater authority and laying the groundwork for a potential regionally consolidated water authority. In August, the mayor revealed he was seeking expressions of interest for consolidating multiple water utilities across four counties in both Tennessee and North Georgia.
Littlefield told the council Tuesday that the purpose of the meeting was to get initial "thoughts and views" and that further talks regarding a possible consolidation would take place later down the road.
"We can see it going forward, adding other pieces to it; the Wastewater Treatment Authority needs some assistance if they're going to do what they have to do," he said. "At some point, we'll have to talk about consolidating those operations. But what we really need to be moving toward is a system that serves our watershed instead of just the city of Chattanooga."
Littlefield mentioned that he might approach state legislators early next year to seek amendments to laws as they apply to the city with regards to the naming of potential board members for the authority.
During the council's regular meeting, Scott motioned to postpone the meeting until January to allow more time for review. The motion failed for lack of a second.
Councilman Russell Gilbert also motioned that a second meeting be scheduled to build on the findings of December's meeting, but the motion also failed.
Councilman Jack Benson said he didn't see the point in scheduling a second meeting on the matter before knowing what discussions took place in the first.
"I don't feel comfortable tying us up with a second meeting until we see what happens in the first meeting," Benson said. "We could have a second meeting if we needed to, and even a third."