Council approves new utility payment options, change to yard sale ordinance

Published 9:53 am Friday, October 10, 2014

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Customers of the city of Elizabethton will soon have more payment location options after City Council approved an agreement with Wal-Mart stores for utility payments.
Council unanimously approved the agreement which will allow city of Elizabethton water/sewer and electric department customers to pay their utility bills 24 hours a day at Wal-Mart.
City Manager Jerome Kitchens said the move was a part of a plan to offer customers more convenient options for paying their bills. City Hall will remain a full-service payment location, taking fines and fees, property taxes and utility payments. The long-term plan is to also reopen the EED offices on Hatcher Lane as a full-service payment location.
“It is a matter of convenience so that customers can have more than one place to pay their bills,” Kitchens said. “Our building is not designed for the customer load we have had. We want to provide alternatives for what is convenient for the customers.”
City customers can now make payments at local banks but Kitchens said the city does not receive many payments that way.
The agreement charges the city a one-time $500 setup fee. Customers who make payments at Wal-Mart will be charged a $1 convenience fee for standard payments delivered in two to three business days or a $1.50 fee for next-day delivered payments. Kitchens said these fees do not come back to the city but to the company that transmits the payments. He added the payment agreement will not be operational for at least a month to allow for the documents to be submitted to the company and the arrangement completed.
Council also approved the second reading of an ordinance restricting the number of yard sales in the city limits to eight per year for each residence. Anyone having more than eight yard sales in a year will have to apply for a business license and following the regulations for home businesses in the city ordinances.
The Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission recommended the ordinance change after the city received complaints from some residents that ongoing yard sales were causing problems in their neighborhood. Issues included parking concerns, too much traffic on residential streets and noise and nuisance complaints. City staff also listed “skirting” sales tax payments and inhibiting local businesses as other factors in the change.
City resident Robert Carroll was the only person to speak during the public hearing regarding the ordinance change. Carroll listed disagreements he had with each of the reasons the city planning department gave for the change and urged the city to address the issues with ordinances that are already in place.
“I am not opposed to regulation of perpetual sales,” Carroll said. “I do not plan to have more than nine yard sales a year, but I am opposed to this. I do not want you telling me how many yard sales I can have in a year. No one else does either.”
Councilwoman Nancy Alsup questioned who would be in charge of enforcing the ordinance.
Planning Director Jon Hartman said the code enforcement officer would be in charge of any violations, but the city would be using passive enforcement instead of active.
“It would be a complaint-driven enforcement system,” Hartman said. “It is not about making sure that people are under the limit, but that we are not having ongoing issues that amount to having a retail establishment in a residential area.”
Kitchens explained the city was not “anti-yard sale.” He said the ordinance change was requested as a way to protect residential neighborhoods.
“Yard sales are a positive thing, but we also want to protect our neighborhoods,” he said. “If there are no issues reported, then there is no problem with us. If we receive complaints, then we have a problem and we will monitor the area.”
The ordinance change was approved 5-2 with Mayor Curt Alexander and Mayor Pro-Tem Bill Carter voting against it.
Council also approved having designs made for a new restroom and pavilion in Kiwanis Park and a new public restroom in downtown Elizabethton.
Kitchens said the Kiwanis Club was fundraising for the bathroom and the Tetrick family was funding the pavilion in the park. The Carter County Car Club had approached the city offering to donate labor and fundraise for materials for a bathroom in downtown.
Kitchens said the designs would make sure the facilities would be made to the appropriate standards so that if they were built they would stand up to the elements and use.

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