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Norris council sets meeting to discuss placing utilities under city manager’s control

A big change could be in the making for the water and sewer utilities in Norris, as the City Council agreed Monday night to hold a workshop Jan. 31 to discuss bringing the utilities under control of the city manager, rather than the Norris Water Commission, which now oversees them.

The move comes as the city continues to struggle with state mandates to correct sewer system environmental violations, which eventually will cost the city potentially in excess of $7 million, and might even require construction of a new sewage treatment plant, which would cost more.

Councilwoman Loretta Painter made a motion near the end of Monday night’s regular council meeting to hold the workshop for the council to discuss creating a utility department that would fall under the control of the city manager, just as the city’s Fire, Police and Public Works departments are.

Her motion passed unanimously, and the meeting was set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, at the council meeting room at the Norris Community Center.

Mayor Chris Mitchell said he approved of the idea of discussing the possibility of making the change.

“Part of the reason we need to look at this is because we’re adding an assistant city manager and we need to look at how the city organization can find some efficiencies,” he said.

Painter said after the meeting that such a move would take control of the utilities away from the current separate Water Commission, and put it directly under control of the city manager, instead.

A second part of the process could be the elimination of the Water Commission as a separate body, and make the members of the City Council the members of the Water Commission, just as they are the members of the city Beer Board, she said.

“This is the way utilities are done in small cities,” Painter said. “It’s not uncommon to be set up this way.”

Painter told The Courier News that she has thoroughly researched the idea and has been in touch with the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service and found that the changes could be made through ordinance revisions. They would not require modifications of the city charter, which would have to be done through the state General Assembly.

In other business Monday night:

• Painter was appointed to be the council’s representative on the Water Commission and the Planning Commission, replacing former Councilman Bob Sain.

• Susan Miceli, the Norris Bulletin’s City Council reporter, was chosen by the council to serve as a member of the Norris Board of Zoning Appeals.

• Blake Knight was chosen to be a new member of the Norris Community Development Board.

• The council agreed to add an area south of Andersonville Highway/Tennessee 61 to the tracts along the stretch between U.S. 441 South and North to receive plantings of trees to help beautify the Norris Freeway Scenic Byway. A diesel-repair business on the south side had previously objected to having the trees in front of its facility, but has agreed with city officials on a revised plan that would reduce the types/sizes of some of the trees to be planted.