Big impact projects approved:

U.S. 231 bridge tourism, mass notification system, massive road equipment upgrade coming

The Blount County Commission approved significant projects to move the county forward in tourism, public safety, and infrastructure rehabilitation, and opened discussion on a major economic development strategic initiative in this month’s cycle of planning and business meetings.

Tourism

The commission unanimously approved a resolution required to activate application of a $400,000 Transportation Alternative Program Grant. The purpose of the grant is to convert the old U.S. 231 bridge north of Cleveland into a flagship “trailhead” for Blount County tourism. It entails adding tourist benches, provision for parking, decorative esthetics, and extensive interpretive signage on the bridge, in conjunction with a cantilevered overlook providing a scenic view of the Locust Fork River and surrounding canyon environment.

As a part of the application, the county commits to provide a 20-percent match, or $100,000, if awarded the grant, and to cover the cost of any required preliminary engineering, estimated not to exceed $50,000.

Public safety

The commission approved purchase of a mass notification alert system for use by all county departments in communicating various emergency and informative messages to the public. The system would provide for unlimited text and e-mail capability to notify registered citizens of diverse messages, from weather and law enforcement alerts to meeting notices for established groups, and other types of daily and routine uses. It has the capability to integrate with existing social media such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and Google. The system cost $18,900 as a cash purchase and will be split equally among the sheriff’s department, the district attorney, and the county commission.

The system is expected to go on line by this summer.

Infrastructure rehabilitation

The commission approved the purchase and financing plan for three additions to its pool of road maintenance equipment, all for countywide use, to be shared by the four county districts. Bids were awarded for three major equipment purchases: a one-man pothole patcher awarded to Tractor & Equipment Company for $191,863; a chip spreader (one component of five needed for tar-and-gravel paving) awarded to Cowin Equipment Co. for $234,859; a pneumatic tire compactor awarded to Thompson Caterpillar for $82,727. Also to be included, but not yet bid, is an asphalt tank for use with the new potholing machine, at an estimated cost of $75,000. Financing for the roughly $584,450 package will consist of transfer of about $97,000 from the coal severance tax fund, $262,800 from the severed materials tax fund, and an advance of some $224,500 from the capital outlay fund. The capital outlay amount would be repaid from subsequent years’ receipts from the severed materials tax fund. Equipment delivery is expected in time for paving season this summer and fall.

The commission approved entering into an agreement with Lathan Associates Architects to study and complete a written plan for needed courthouse building upgrades and modifications. The study and plan would cost $7,500 and would recommend changes needed and estimate costs involved. The $7,500 cost would be credited toward implementation costs of the first actual renovation project. To justify need for the project, Commission Chairman Chris Green noted that a generation ago, government functions now occupying parts or all of at least four buildings, including the courthouse, were once contained within the courthouse, and that an update of facilities has not been carried out within the building during that time.

Economic development

In the commission’s Thursday work session, Blount County Health Care Authority chairman Jerry Jones proposed a tentative plan to the commission to fund the Blount County Economic Development Council via an exchange of properties involving the Health Care Authority, the Blount County Commission, and the Economic Development Council. According to the not-yet-approved plan, the Health Care Authority would transfer ownership of the Family Services Mall and adjoining lot of property lying between the mall and Ala 75 to the county; the county would separate the Family Services Mall from the adjoining lot, retaining ownership of the Family Services Mall and deeding the adjoining lot to the Economic Development Council to fund its operation. The commission responded favorably, but not officially, to the plan at the work session, but did not place the proposal on Monday’s business agenda. The substance of discussion in Thursday’s meeting was that the commission favored the proposal in principle, and would encourage continued discussion of it as an option if details could be worked out to the satisfaction of all parties.

In other actions, the commission:

• adopted a resolution to join The Cooperative Purchasing Network, a nationwide purchasing network for local governments, at no cost in order to get the benefit of substantial discounts.

• adopted a resolution that, whenever services are to be provided in cooperation or conjunction with another governmental entity, to execute a written contract with that entity specifying the details of the cooperating agreement, in compliance with Alabama law.

• adopted a resolution declaring May 9, 2015, as Jacksonville State University Day. An event for Jacksonville State alumni and prospective students will be held at the Blount County- Oneonta Agri-Business Center that morning.

• authorized the chairman to formally request the Blount County Health Care Authority to provide $50,000 to be used for renovations at the Family Services Mall.

• approved a budget amendment of $12,000 to the Family Services Mall budget to pay for contract labor for building improvements.

• rejected bids for a road broom, with no intent to rebid,

• awarded bid to Cowin Equipment Co. for purchase of smooth drum roller for District 2 for $33,000, one-half to be paid now and one-half to be paid in 2016.

• approved budget amendment of $16,500 to District 2 to finance half the purchase price of a smooth drum roller to be repaid to the gas tax fund 111 reserve in 2016.

• awarded the bid for purchase of surveying equipment to Lengemann Corp. for $23,377.61.

• awarded the bid for three stone sizes and three load sizes of sandstone to Alabama Wholesale Stone.

• declared surplus a tank (only) attached to District 2’s 1992 International truck and authorized its sale.

• authorized administrator to draft a proclamation declaring May “Clean Up the Countryside Month;” approved $2,000 from tourism fund to advertise to citizens to clean up litter along the roadways, in lieu of the annual PALS litter campaign, which has been cancelled this year.

• approved purchase of crew cab pickup truck on state bid for maintenance department for $29,128, using $10,000 already budgeted, and with stipulation that maintenance department will repay the general fund at $10,000 per year out of its budget for the next two years.

Budget amendments

• $94,000 to District 1 for sale of fixed assets by J. W. Wood Auction Co.

• $121,035 to District 3 for sale of fixed assets by J.W. Wood Auction Co.

• District 2: miscellaneous credits of $1,909, $600, and $3,100.

• District 3: miscellaneous credits of $854, $964, $5,440, $888, and $652.

• District 4: miscellaneous credits of $674, $1,394, $750, $25,000, and $150.

Engineering reports

• work on County Road 1 still proceeding, still being delayed by bad weather.

• recommended and approved $1,375 reduction in $5,500 bond held against Woodbrook Farms in District 1, developer Faith Forrest Homes, Inc.

• authorized bid for 5,000/7,000-gallon asphalt storage tank for countywide use in connection with new potholing machine.

Executive session

At the request of county attorney Scott Barnett, the commission met in executive session to discuss the reputation and character of an individual. They returned in about 20 minutes, adjourning without taking any further action.

Quorum and future meetings

All commissioners and the commission chairman were present at the commission’s Monday business meeting.

The next commission work session will be Thursday, May 7, at 9 a.m.

The next commission business meeting will be Monday, May 11, at 9 a.m. Both will be in the commission boardroom at the courthouse in Oneonta.