No one spoke to proposed increases in water and sewer rates in Pound during a public hearing Tuesday but a former town council member again raised procedural questions, including notice of that night's formal hearing.
Council had originally hoped to adopt the proposed taxes, rates and fees for fiscal year 2019-20 that night, but instead recessed its meeting until next Tuesday for adoption based on a different procedural question.
Town attorney Tim McAfee at one point suggested the town contact him before placing such notices so he could help advise them and be prepared himself to address questions, also noting that he had been unaware of that night's hearing until that day.
Former councilman Terry Short asked for clarification of the purpose of that night's hearing, saying the state code section under which the hearing was advertised is for appropriations and that a completely different section of state law addresses enactment of rates and fees.
So which is it? Short asked, prompting Councilman Clifton Cauthorne to also ask for clarification.
That's when McAfee said he had not seen the public notice and asked council for some advance notice so he could be prepared, adding that notice is a question that's been raised at every meeting.
"It's a good question," Mayor and interim Town Manager George Dean said. "I wish we had someone that is responsible for the budget that could answer that question for you."
Town Clerk Treasurer Jeremy Mullins was absent that night. Earlier in the year, council moved responsibility for the budget to Mullins.
Short read from several different sections of state law, including one on the enactment of certain fees and levies that state they shall be adopted by ordinance.
Further, he read from another section that stipulated no ordinance shall be passed until it had been advertised for two consecutive weeks prior to passage.
The advertisement shall include a statement of either the full text of the ordinance or that a copy of the full text of the ordinance is on file in the town clerk's office, he said.
"That's the reason I'm asking. What are you doing?" Short asked. "I don't really know how to address this until I know what the public hearing is about."
If it's about an ordinance, an ordinance was never advertised but rates and fees were, he said, again seeking clarification.
Dean replied, "The person that could probably clarify that is not there and you're looking at an empty chair."
How do you expect to hold a public hearing if you don't know what you're advertising? Short responded.
Cauthorne asked if council had voted to advertise for the public hearing and Dean said yes, for the purpose of discussing rates, fees and taxes.
But Short said it was advertised only one time. Dean insisted it had been published twice. Short asked for the date, to which Dean replied he would have to go look for it "but your time's up."
A review of the public notices shows the town having advertised that night's rates and fees hearing once, on June 28. The proposed budget public hearing was advertised twice, on June 7 and June 14. The public notice included a summary of the proposed 2019-20 budget along with proposed rates and fees.
After the hearing was closed, Cauthorne moved to approve the proposed rates and fees as advertised but Dean called the motion out of order, noting a procedural question.
Dean had said at a previous meeting that council could act on the rates the same night as the hearing because the small town is exempted from certain provisions of state law since it is under 3,500 population. But he said Tuesday Michelle Gowdy of the Virginia Municipal League had not been able to find that provision.
He said council should "err on the side of caution and wait a week."
Cauthorne observed that one reason he's in favor of the proposal is because it doesn't include an increase in the town's $7 fee, which is used toward repayment of debt for water and sewer improvements.
Dean paused. "It doesn't because it's not on there," he said, referring to the advertised public notice, adding, "that's very interesting."
After a long pause, Dean added, "We'll have to do something else but it can't be changed right now."
Council recessed its meeting until Tuesday, July 16, at 6 p.m. to take up the proposed rates and fees.
— Reported from meeting video.