The Tallulah City Council on Thursday approved a resolution to refund excess charges to city water customers, and also unanimously agreed to introduce and reconsider the initial ordinance the refund originated from.
The unanimously approved refund stemmed from Ordinance 21-03-01, which was passed in March of last year and raised water rates for city customers in order to fund the repayment of an anticipated loan from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to pay for refurbishing the city’s aging water plant.
In November, after presumptive Tallulah mayoral candidate Antonio Wilson questioned the manner in which the ordinance was passed, Tallulah City Attorney Doug Doughty said he reviewed the law and determined the mayor’s tie-breaking vote was indeed invalid, prompting the need for the excess charges to be refunded.
“I certainly thought [at the time of the original vote] it was valid,” Doughty said during Thursday’s meeting. “I’ve done some research and my opinion [now] is that it is not valid.”
Doughty said the law, stemming from a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling, states that a vote that is “tied” due to an abstaining council member is unable to be broken by a sitting mayor. In March, Councilmen Martez Robinson and Andrew Sims each voted no to the ordinance, while Councilman Michael Whitney abstained. At the time of the vote, Doughty advised Tallulah Mayor Charles Finlayson during the meeting that his vote would break the tie. Finlayson subsequently cast a vote of yes.
Following November’s agreement to refund the money, Finlayson said the council would revisit the ordinance following the monetary resolution of the initial vote.
March’s passage of the ordinance raised water rates that will now be refunded to water customers for the months of April through November of 2021. Finlayson said those refunds will come in the form of a credit for current water customers and by way of a check for anyone affected by the rate hikes, but that is no longer a current customer.
Following the approval of the refund, the council members also unanimously agreed to reintroduce the original ordinance in order to satisfy the terms of the USDA loan for funding of the water plant’s pending construction and refurbishing.
Doughty said, in this specific case, the ordinance could only be reintroduced by a motion by one of the council members who originally voted no or abstained. Sims made the motion to reintroduce the ordinance during Thursday’s meeting, while Whitney seconded the motion.
Finlayson said a public hearing will be held in two weeks, prior to the council’s final vote on the ordinance.