By REID TUCKER
Former Paxton Town Councilman Bill McRae addressed the sitting Council regarding a request for action to be taken to have a traffic control device installed at the intersection of U.S. 331 and County Highway 147.
McRae said there have been several fatalities resulting from traffic accidents at the intersection within the past few years, including one in December. McRae, who tried during his tenure on the Council to get a traffic light installed at the location, ran into a proverbial dead end when a traffic study conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation concluded that traffic on the road was insufficient to necessitate such a device. Since the two highways in question fall under different governmental authorities, it was decided that the best way to get action taken was to, once again, go to FDOT for a traffic study in hopes of determining why the intersection is so dangerous.
In light of the pressing concerns of local residents and the Council members themselves, Councilman Tommy Mathis to make a motion to have City Attorney Lori Bytell draft a resolution to that effect to be submitted to FDOT. The motion passed unanimously. Bytell will also bring the item before the Walton County Board of County Commissioners at an upcoming meeting, with the goal of encouraging the county to draft a similar resolution.
McRae said it is regrettable that a traffic light could not have been installed at the intersection the last time Paxton tried to go ahead with the project. Loss of life could have been avoided had there been some kind of traffic control device at the intersection, he said. He added that, while studies can be interpreted any number of ways to favor a given outcome, it was impossible for the DOT to ignore the fact that people have been killed.
“Unfortunately it does take a fatality to get somebody’s attention,” McRae said. “There are always criteria that someone can throw up and say you don’t meet the criteria….There is not one solution to the problem. However, if we ignore the problem, there won’t be a solution.
“[FDOT] always turned us down before, so there’s no need not to go ahead and try again. Not doing something is not an option.”
Mayor Hayward Thomas initiated a discussion with the Council regarding moving back water bill due dates and the associated penalties for customers of the city’s water and sewer system. Thomas was approached by several members of the community who said their Social Security checks had recently begun to arrive later than normal and, because they operate on a fixed income, they were unable to set aside the necessary money to pay their bills in advance. However, discussion brought to light that Social Security checks are mailed out based on the birth date of the recipient, so it would be impossible to resolve the issue simply by pushing back due dates unless the process was carried out for all of the approximately 800 customers.
A large part of Paxton’s factored-in water and sewer system revenues come from late-fee penalties assessed on water bills. With the Fiscal Year 2012 budget already in the books, no decision could be made until October when the new budget goes up for adoption, but the Council decided to reconsider the issue of changing the late fee process in order to help low-income members of the community.
Finally, the Council heard a presentation from Empire Pipe and Supply Company Sales Manager Robert Peterson, who pitched an electronic water meter that can be measured remotely via a radio transmitter as a future solution for Paxton’s aging water meters. The company recently installed the system in nearby Florala, Ala.
The electronic meters, which cost approximately $200 apiece versus $50 for a conventional meter, feature backflow detection software and the capability to store 5 1/2 months’ worth of history on daily water usage thanks to data-logging software. Peterson said each meter unit has a 22-year battery life and a 22-year warranty on the electronics. Advantages of an electronic system would be increased worker productivity, increased leak detection and increased profits for the city.
Water Department Manager Frank Burlison said the current water loss throughout the system was holding at 1 percent, but that percentage is beginning to climb as the meters age. When that happens, the city will have to replace its meters anyway, and he said the city and its customers could possibly save money in the long run by spending the extra money to upgrade to an electronic meter system.
Though the Council did not vote on the matter, the consensus was to begin looking for grants or tax-exempt municipal leases from the state to finance such a project, which Peterson said would come in around $225,000 for a turnkey system, plus a $3 monthly charge per meter.