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Valley rally


The Valley Brook Board of Trustees voted to delay a controversial rate increase after a heated meeting.

Clifton Adcock August 17th, 2011

The small Oklahoma County municipality of Valley Brook got a big response from some of its citizens during a heated Aug. 9 Board of Trustees meeting, after residents accused the town leaders of violating the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act to raise sewer and trash rates.

Valley Brook, located just north of Crossroads Mall, is surrounded on all sides by Oklahoma City. According to 2009 census numbers, the population is 789.

The controversy started when resident Richard Ford (pictured presenting to the council) noticed a change in his city utility rates: an increase of $10 on his trash service bill and $1 on his sewage service.

“No one really knew. There was no notice on the bill; we just thought we had been using a lot of water,” Ford said, but after comparing the bill with a previous bill, it was apparent the rates had been raised.

Ford said he called the city and that he was told that it was a last-minute addition to the July Board of Trustees agenda and that he had two options: Move or pay the bill.

Ford said the mayor and city workers also told him that the agenda item to raise the rates was a last-minute addition added two hours before the meeting started.

The Oklahoma Open Meeting Act states that public bodies must publicly display agendas 24 hours in advance.

Most of the people in Valley Brook are on a fixed income and many are disabled, Ford said. He started a petition requesting that the raise in rates be rescinded, that the residents be reimbursed for the extra amount paid, that citizens be properly notified of votes and that extensions be granted for utility payments to Sooner Utilities.

Ford collected about 144 signatures on the petition and presented it at the board’s regular Aug. 9 meeting, which was attended by approximately 40 people.

“We want them to know this isn’t OK,” Ford said before the start of the meeting.

Right off the bat, however, things got complicated.

Although the Aug. 9 meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. — and the agenda posted in the window of the town courthouse, where the meeting was to be held, stated the meeting began at 7 p.m. — it was delayed until 7:30 because the courthouse was also a polling location for the Republican primary for the Senate District 43 race. Those entering the courthouse were told they were not allowed in the public building until after voting was finished.

Once the meeting started, the Board of Trustees received an audit stating that the city’s public works authority, which manages sewage and garbage, was running at a relatively severe loss of about $74,000, mostly because the systems weren’t bringing in enough money, the audit stated.

Much of the meeting and parliamentary procedure was directed by town attorney Robert Thompson, (pictured) and the measure to allow for a sewage and trash rate increase had been placed on the Aug. 9 agenda, despite having been approved by the trustees the previous month.

When the town clerk read the agenda item, Ford asked why the matter was on the agenda again.

“Last month the (trustees) voted to increase the rates and I think this agenda (item) was put back on here today, it’s my understanding, so there could be an explanation and discussion about why, because apparently there weren’t that many people here for that meeting,” Thompson said. “I can assure the (board) and public there was an agenda posted more than 24 hours before the meeting.”

Thompson said the raise in rates was not enough to cover the entire deficit in the public works budget, which has seen ever-increasing deficits in recent years and is required by the state Department of Environmental Quality to be self-sustaining.

We want them to know this isn’t OK.

—Richard Ford

After the meeting, Thompson said he had received a copy of the agenda the day before the July meeting and the item was on it, and the town clerk also said she had posted the agenda.

When asked what the mayor’s name was, Thompson said he did not know.

“I just call him mayor,” he said. “I don’t know his full name; I just call him mayor.”

During the meeting, Ford said he had met with mayor of Valley Brook, Sam Harp, when he was collecting signatures for the petition and that prior to asking him to sign, Harp had told him that the item was added two hours prior to the meeting.

“I had never seen (Ford) before then,” Harp told Ford.

“The same day at the front door, you were a little bit intoxicated,” Ford replied.

Harp denied drinking and said he could not because of a heart condition and that if he were to have a drink, “it would probably kill me.”

During the meeting, several frustrated and angry citizens aired their grievances over the increase, the lack of notice and other issues surrounding the matter. At one point, a city worker questioned the amount reported to have been spent on trash services in the audit, while demanding to know if his job was in danger because of the public works deficit.

As the meeting went on, citizens began to debate the issues between themselves, sometimes speaking over one another as the board members spoke quietly among themselves.

“I think you just need to make a vote,” Thompson told Harp, “They’re not going to pay attention, and they’re not going to honor your —” “We are paying attention,” someone in the audience protested.

Thompson said the trustees could choose to defer the rate increases until September, reaffirm the rate increases or change the rate.

“Your community has spoken. You see the paperwork in front of you with the signatures,” Ford told Harp. “The community does not want to pay this bill and cannot pay this bill; therefore, you’re leaving a lot of people in a hard place.”

Ford asked that the item and rate increases at least be deferred, if it would not be immediately rescinded and Harp agreed with the idea.

“Let’s fully investigate it and find more out about it,” Harp said, and the trustees voted 4-1 to put the item off until September.

Ford said he was pessimistic about whether the fight was over.

“I think that we got a postponement, but honestly, I think, at the end of this, it will come back to the fee. They wanted to calm the public and give us a month,” Ford said. “I’m definitely going to keep the town going on it, but the way it looks, it doesn’t matter what the town says; it’s up to them.

If that’s the case, we’ve got to find out how to get these people out of power and bring in people who live in the town who understand that the town is on a fixed income.”

Photos by Mark Hancock

 
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08.17.2011 at 05:28 Reply

Awesome job!! Thanks for covering this story!

 

08.17.2011 at 10:14 Reply

The whole friggin nation is on a fixed income.  But you cannot run these programs at a deficit, that's how our country got 14 Trillion in debt.  Sounds like 789 people are pitching a fit over an $11 increase which would generate $104,148 annually and still not be enough to cover the expenses.  So, if the people are unwilling to pay for these services, you either stop offering the services and defer to a private company, or you start hacking away at the only variable they can control; staffing.  If the utilities have to cut that amount of from their budgets because people can't pay an additional $11 a month, one might conclude that could result in termination of up to 5 full-time positions (assuming those employees don't earn more than $10/hr in pay and benefits - which is unlikely).

I love how when government becomes insolvent, people are unwilling to do what's necessary to keep it solvent.  Maybe we should begin to privitize these things.  Then once we've given the keys over to a company (which unlike the government MUST make a profit) we'll realize that we had it pretty good in the beginning.

But who knows, it could go the other way.  A private company might only pay the employees minimum wage and offer zero benefits.  Everyone gets to keep their job, but work for a lot less pay and even less dignity.  But that's okay, cause these folk got to keep their $11 a month.  And that's what's important.

I don't live in Valley Brook, but I wouldn't get into a screaming match over such a miniscule amount of money.  People fail to realize that the price of everything inflates, that's not going to change unless we have a wicked 1929esque recession.  Maybe that would be a good thing.  Anyone who has ever viewed the Dow since it's inception can see inflation got off the chain in the mid 90's and has been tramatizing families ever since.


 

 

08.17.2011 at 11:44

Uhhh, omgbear, do you actually know what it means to live on a fixed income?  Furthermore, have you caught onto the fact that the overall price burden for people's monthly expenses has gone up about 9%?  That's a big number, and it's even bigger when you have a fixed income that isn't increasing with it.  You think people are just pissing and moaning about $11, apparently you've never been in a situation where $11 can make or break you for a month.

And the government got 14 tr in debt because they've created dollars out of thin air and borrowed from other countries to pay off corrupt bankers, keep up appropriate levels of war mongering and maintain useless domestic programs.  If you think bailing out the government is a simple matter of paying "your fair share" of taxes then you have no idea what the enormity of the figures in play actually mean.

 

08.18.2011 at 07:44 Reply

Myhumangetsme,

  
You take me as ignorant of how the country got into these situations, but I am not blind to any thing you mention.  Actually I flat out agree.  Perhaps my attempt to trivialize $11 a month has rubbed you the wrong way.  But how many of Valley Brook’s 789 residents get cable, rent a movie once a week, or buy a single pack of beer over the course of a month?  My point is that fixed income is relative to what you place priorities on.  I’m not talking about those who have already made those sacrifices and whom have to make a daily decision to buy food or prescription medication.  When I think of “fixed income” I think of people who will go without essentials like that.  I am not talking about those who stupidly felt they needed to buy a $40,000 16 MPG truck when a $15,000 33 MPG car is all they legitimately need.  The later of which has served me well.

  
To answer your question, if I or my wife became unemployed, we’d begin defaulting on our mortgage within less than 1 month.  And I have already begun cutting away at non-necessities like those I’ve mentioned.  At some point, “fixed income” does become a relative term.  But how many of these people are paying credit card bills because they couldn’t live without an iPhone, Xbox 360, of 50” HDTV?  I don’t have sympathy for those who prioritized such things above basic necessities such as running water and trash pickup.

  
Whether people choose to be oblivious to market influences in their lives, I’m never sure.  But as I said previously, governments are not required to make a profit.  In a way this is a good thing because there is no interest by shareholders in finding ways to increase profits.  However, that means that governments run their budgets so tight that there is no wiggle room when their expenses become affected by the free markets.  Meaning that when their budgets were written the cost of fuel has probably risen 10-20%.  That affects the operational costs of operating the garbage trucks.  When it comes to treating water, it affects the cost of receiving chemicals for water treatment.  When things break, the cost of having replacement parts shipped is inflated as well.  So you have a litany of different costs that the utilities have to incur directly and indirectly simply because of the cost of fuel.  I’m not sure how the government does it, but my company buys a years supply of fuel at one instance.  This locks in a price what doesn’t fluctuate for a whole year, but it’s a gamble.  While statistically fuel prices will always rise, they could drop in 6 months, and you’ve already paid the higher price.  Conversely it’s more likely to be a benefit to buy it all at once because the price will most likely rise over the course of a year.  But if you have done this successfully and locked in a rate that 10-20% below what it would have cost to buy that fuel over the course of the whole year, you will still be caught off guard when you make this big fuel purchase for the next calendar year and the prices have inflated.  You will have to have an increased budget at that time to counter that inflation, that’s just a fact.


  
In just the 16 years I have been driving I have witnessed fuel prices go from approximately $1 to $3.50 per gallon.  Simply put, a 350% increase over 16 years.  If that rate were to continue, in another 16 years the cost associated with fuel will be approximately $12.25 a gallon!  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that this isn’t sustainable.  Whether you want to believe it or not, our economy is held hostage by a million year old black substance which is not available in an unending supply.  Inevitably we will see governments wage war, and businesses crumble because of this.  And as much as I dislike being a downer, right now the $11 increase is nothing compared to what we’ll all be paying in the future because of our petroleum addiction.


  
If you haven’t done so, I would recommend a documentary called Collapse.  If you can’t find it, try Googling “Peak Oil”.  It’s a real eye opener.  The best possible thing we can do right now is invest in renewable energy and technology/vehicles which will run off it.   That might sound like a far cry from struggles of a small community grappling with a minute rate increase, but it’s all relative.  I only hope I’ve adequately explained why it’s relative.

 

08.19.2011 at 08:29 Reply

I'm surprised 789 people live there. On the most crowded nights of their strip clubs there don't seem like that many people there.

 

11.07.2011 at 11:17 Reply

OMGBEAR apears to be a dumb to this as the town attorney and they mayor. I fought for this because it was an agenda that was not posted. A direct violation of the law! The law is never held accountable for their actions because they are above the law. Valley Brook in the end lowered the trash to $2 a month and kept the $1 for sewage. Again they directly broke the open meeting act that night as the signage was not posted in direct public view. It was hidden behind a screen window you could barely make out what it said. I took money from my pocket to fight for the people of Valley Brook. Greatfully the chief of police was finaly busted for his drug trafficking. Now when they take him off the payroll the funds will actualy go back into the town, the enxt step is to remove his mother from the city workings along with the rest of the people who knew what he was doing!

   When someone moves in, breaks the law, does what they want and expects everyone to turn their head expect me there!!! I dont focus on the problem I focus on solutions!

 

11.08.2011 at 12:39

"OMGBEAR apears to be a dumb to this as the town attorney and they mayor."

I typically don't begrudge people for typos and grammatical errors since I’m prone to make the same mistakes when my response is heated, but you have to admit that that your attempt to berate me with such a poorly constructed sentence is actually pretty funny.  Even I think it’s a travesty that this site doesn’t allow the editing of comments.

Tell me Richard, what about my comments do you find “dumb”?

Now don’t get me wrong, I actually agree with your fighting to get the meeting properly posted.  If they intentionally tried to pull the wool over the citizen’s eyes, then they deserve to have a nice helping of humble pie.  However, my comments were relating to expenses tied to inflation, and how $11 for continued sewer and garbage service isn’t that bad.  I for one would rather have a functioning toilet and timely garbage removal than something trivial like a case of beer (which would cost pretty much the same).  It’s a trade off.  If you read my comment, you’ll know I went into detail to specify what kind of person is really living on a fixed income. 

I stand by my statements;


“…how many of Valley Brook’s 789 residents get cable, rent a movie once a week, or buy a single pack of beer over the course of a month?  My point is that fixed income is relative to what you place priorities on.  I’m not talking about those who have already made those sacrifices and whom have to make a daily decision to buy food or prescription medication.  When I think of “fixed income” I think of people who will go without essentials like that.  I am not talking about those who stupidly felt they needed to buy a $40,000 16 MPG truck when a $15,000 33 MPG car is all they legitimately need….”
 

“I have already begun cutting away at non-necessities like those I’ve mentioned.  At some point, “fixed income” does become a relative term.  But how many of these people are paying credit card bills because they couldn’t live without an iPhone, Xbox 360, of 50” HDTV?  I don’t have sympathy for those who prioritized such things above basic necessities such as running water and trash pickup.”


I know nothing about you sir, but I think I’ve made a pretty solid statement for whom is considered “living on a fixed income.”  Now, if you happen to drive an expensive gas guzzling pickup, own a 50” HDTV,  iPhone, iPad, Xbox, Boat, or any of the 100’s of toys we don’t need to survive, and can still prove to me you’re on a fixed income, then I welcome your retort.  But if you’re at the pharmacy and you’re deciding to skip medication so you can afford to eat, well sir, you are on a fixed income, and I empathize with you.

 

 
 
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