Durbin Town Council goes from good to bad to worse

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

At its regular meeting February 9, Durbin Town Council attempted to conduct town business and to make decisions for the betterment of the town. While it was able to approve several agenda items, the council was inundated with complaints and frustrations from a few town residents.

The good

Council discussed the financial status of the town with treasurer Jerri Sipe.

Sipe explained that the town’s general fund has $22,173.98, the coal severance fund has $1,629.67, the sewer account has $2,844.02 and Durbin Days Heritage Festival has $5,955.51.

With the accounts in good standing, Sipe asked council to consider making a large payment to the IRS to reduce the amount owed in back taxes.

“If we make the minimum payment they’re telling us to make, it’s going to take close to three years to pay off 2013,” Sipe said. “I would like permission to make bigger installments to get rid of it because they’re just going to keep charging us penalties.”

Sipe suggested making a $5,000 lump sum payment in addition to the monthly payments to bring the 2013 back tax amount down to a reasonable sum. On top of 2013, the town owes back taxes for 2014 and 2015, as well. According to Sipe, the total owed is approximately $15,000.

Council said it would consider Sipe’s suggestion and told her to continue to make monthly payments to the IRS. The financial statement was approved.

In other business: Council applauded contractor Jason Bauserman for the work he did upgrading a room at town hall. Council gave council member Mark Smith permission to seek a new town attorney.

Mayor Kenneth Lehman organized an ordinance committee consisting of himself, council member Don Jennings and town resident David Vanordsale.

The bad

As council discussed past due bills owed to the town, resident Mike Vance addressed council with concerns with regard to bills for his properties.

Vance said he was fine with paying bills for his property which is being used as a residence, but he was not happy with a recent letter he received pertaining to his business which is now closed.

In accordance to the building ordinance, Vance said he wrote a letter to council stating he is using the building for storage so council could discontinue water service to the building. Council did the same for council member Mark Smith in November for a building he uses for storage.

Unlike what was done for Smith, Vance said he was informed he would still have to pay a back-due bill for water service to the building before the building was removed from his bill.

“I got a letter back from them and it said ‘if you pay your past due bill, we’ll excuse it,’” Vance said. “I just want you people in town to know what’s going on. It ain’t right for me to have to pay it. That’s discrimination. I’ve talked to a lawyer. That’s discrimination and this town council is doing it.”

Smith explained that his building was always used as storage and that is why he was exempt, whereas Vance was using his building as a business until recently.

That is why council is asking for the past due bill to be paid, Smith said.

There was no resolution to the issue.

The worse

Several residents showed their disdain with how town government and town employee Donald “Bunny” Vance handled snow removal after Winter Storm Jonas hit the county.

Mayor Kenneth Lehman said he was pleased with the work Vance did and said he helped as much as he could.

“I’ve heard a lot of complaints,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of comments. Maybe we didn’t do everything right, but we tried our best. Mark, Bunny and I spent six hours out Saturday trying to get the streets open. Maybe we’re not perfect, but we tried with the equipment we have.”

Residents did not share Lehman’s view and a few even took to Facebook to share their disappointment in the way the snow removal was handled.

“The bottom line is the plowing in this town was a failure and you don’t want to admit it,” Kenneth “Buster” Varner said.

Varner said he used a grader to plow several streets which were untouched by the town. He was discouraged by how the town looked, that he wasn’t asked by the council to help and that the mayor “ignored” him when he was plowing snow. Varner also said he was displeased with Vance’s work as the town employee.

“The point is, you’ve got people who are supposed to be doing a job and they’re not doing it and you’re sitting here making excuses for them,” Varner said.

“Bunny was out doing his job,” Lehman answered. “I was running around in the truck with him plowing all that Friday evening until after 5 p.m. and he was out past that. You can’t expect him to do it twenty-four/seven.”

Lehman suggested that council consider purchasing a snowblower to add to the snow removal equipment available for use by the town employee.

Council did not vote on the item.

Former town treasurer Donald Peck also addressed council with issues he had with snow removal as well as his own resignation as treasurer.

In November, council asked Peck to turn in his resignation, which he did.

“I asked one question – ‘why?’” he said. “You said because I didn’t know my job. If I was wrong and the work I did was wrong, then you all was wrong in accepting the financial statement. So, I’m here tonight to ask for the mayor’s resignation and the [resignation of the] four council that accepted my resignation.”

Council did not take any action on Peck’s request.

Jennings said the council is trying to do the best it can for the town and reiterated that the council is not perfect.
Despite council’s efforts to quell the disappointment, many residents continued to show frustration and one mentioned signing a petition to remove Lehman as mayor.

The meeting ended with few resolutions and many unanswered questions.

Durbin Town Council meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the town office.

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