FERGUSON — “I honestly believe we are on good ground.”

Ferguson City Councilor Sandi Pitman’s impassioned speech at Monday’s council meeting contained those words, as Pitman sought to dispel negative talk around town by giving a sort of “State of the City” address.

Pitman said that “word was spreading” that the City Council is “bankrupting” Ferguson, and she felt compelled to stamp those rumors as untrue. She said she had heard such things even from past council members and “people who are still official people” in Ferguson.

“I just don’t know how people can arrive at these statements,” said Pitman, “when those who have been telling them don’t even know what budgets and bookkeeping (are).”

Pitman had crunched some numbers and came prepared to say that despite having a “really tough year,” the city was in basically good financial shape — the council in December 2004, before the current council members officially took their seats, reflected a loss of nearly $12,000 on the part of the city’s budget. That figure, Pitman noted, is a much greater loss than the figures from the end of 2005 show.

“It looks like we’re staying in good shape with the budget,” said Pitman.

Where there is trouble, however, is with the gas company — and that’s nothing exclusive to Ferguson, Pitman pointed out.

“Believe me, I’ve been in touch with the City of Somerset, and they’re experiencing some of these same problems,” said Pitman. “They’re about to pull their hair out up there, because what they’re doing, they’re getting these double heating bills and even the ones who aren’t on a fixed income and would normally go ahead and pay their whole bill, their bill’s higher and they can’t pay it all at one time.”

Thus they’re being put on a payment plan, she said — and it will be three to six months down the road before the necessary money comes in.

“Even though it does concern me that it will take this long to come out of this thing, I still believe that if we don’t have drastic whether between now and another month or two, we will come out of this thing by May or June,” said Pitman.

The reason why the account has been depleted so fast, as near as Pitman could tell, was because $500 used to be the figure for reading the meters — and now they’re letting the City of Somerset take care of everything for around 70 cents a unit.

“An adjustment should have made at that time to people’s gas bills but it wasn’t,” said Pitman. “So we have been carrying this load and now over the years, the people with bad debts or checks that never got paid, they have taken off what we’ve had in our bank account and now it’s come down to, we don’t have a lot of money to deal with.”

Between July 2004 and the beginning of 2005, there was a loss in gas company funds of $6,000, said Pitman — a sign that something should have been done.

“I remember making notes (in the Jan. 2005) council meeting that we (the city) were paying a higher rate than the customers,” said Pitman. “A lot of it was my not realizing what the system was, and I believe the rates were voted on to be the same rates again, and nothing was done again. I went along with it, so slap my face too.”

In other City Council business:

• The council passed Ordinance 2005-2, regarding a change to the polices and Procedure Manual. The amendment states that all City of Ferguson employees will be classified as full-time, part-time, temporary or seasonal, defined those terms, and noted that all those hired after Sept. 1, 2005 are to be classified as probationary employees for a period of a year from the date they were hired, and full-time employees shall be entitled to all benefits as provided, while the others types of employees are entitled to not except as recommended by the Mayor and approved by the City Council.

• Councilor George Edwards suggested putting a viscous dog ordinance in place.

• The council considered and approved a resolution to adopt the Lake Cumberland Area Development District Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan. For Ferguson, that would entail investigating which streets are prone to flooding. Adopting the plan is more or less necessary in order to get FEMA money in case of emergency situations, according to City Attorney Heidi Powers.

“It’s something we really can’t lose with, as far as I’m concerned,” said Mayor Jim Muse.

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