Commission work session: cradle of local democracy

First evening work session draws a crowd of 30-plus

For individuals and groups wanting to petition their local government to request help with a problem, seek redress for grievances, or raise awareness of a subject for discussion, the commission work session is the place to go. Last week’s work session, the first to be held in the evening, is a case in point.

Seven individual guests or delegations were scheduled. Six actually appeared to speak their pieces. Here’s a rundown on those who appeared and the concerns they expressed.

Community feud

First was Allen Jones, representing nearly a dozen from the Brooksville area. The group asked the commission in effect not to approve a grant to a Brooksville group that wants to build a new fire station. Jones said the volunteer department was formed 23 years ago, with an insurance rating of 9 at the time it was formed. The rating is still 9, he said. The insurance rating represents the insurance industry’s estimate of the degree of fire protection offered by a fire department. The group appeared to object to the project because they feel the need for a new station has not been convincingly demonstrated.

The other group, represented by fire volunteer Bert Goodfallow, fire chief Lane Pettitt and others had earlier asked the commission to apply for a community enhancement grant on the fire department’s behalf to build a new, expanded fire station on property owned by the department. Part of their rationale for requesting the grant is to improve the insurance rating. None of the fire department group spoke at the work session Thursday.

Commission chairman David Standridge replied that the county commission has no role in approving the grant, simply acting as a mid- dle man in passing it on to ADECA for consideration. He added that public hearings are required as a part of the grant approval process, and that significant local opposition would probably result in grant denial. He also said the fire department is considering applying for a grant that would come from federal stimulus package funds, which would not require a public hearing for approval.

Access to services

Candace Hodges of the Nectar area in District 1 addressed the commission about limited access to cable, internet and phone service. She said she had been given conflicting information about who is responsible for providing such services. She also asked the commission for help in attracting providers to the area who would provide more options to residents.

Standridge told her it is up to individual companies, not the county commission, to decide what areas to serve and what services to provide. He said the county could perhaps encourage providers by writing them a letter to inform them of the growing population of the county and attendant growth of demand for their services.

Request for road stats

John Williams of District 2 asked about district budgets and his impression that monies were transferred from district to district to meet road maintenance needs. He presented a list of nine questions requiring considerable research into road maintenance statistics and requested the commission answer the questions and publish the results in The Blount Countian and other newspapers for public review. Example of questions: “List gallons of gasoline and gallons of diesel fuel used in each district from Oct. 2008 to April 2009.”

Subdivision roads dilemma

Keith Smith, a resident of Lexington Brook inquired into the status of bonds posted to guarantee roads built in sectors 1 and 2 of the subdivision. Current status: the bond on sector 1 was returned to the builder Todd Wortham in 2003. The developer never requested that the county accept the roads in sector 1 for maintenance, and the roads have not been accepted by the county. A bond of a mere $2500 is still in effect on sector 2 roads. .

In sector one, at least one 300-foot section of roadway on a hill has failed catastrophically, with much, if not most, of the pavement having already broken up. According to commissioner Waymon Pitts, repairing roads in the subdivision would require major unbudgeted expenditures, which would nowhere near be covered by the small bond remaining. Pitts said there’s no easy solution and that he, the entire county commission, and the county engineer will have to take a hard look at determine how to handle the dilemma.

Sunset at Freedom Ranch

Dr. Rich Crow, interim executive director of Alabama Youth Homes, asked the commission to extend the date to vacate the premises of the Freedom Ranch for about two months through the month of July. The commission granted the request, specifying only that the extension would not under any circumstances extend into the next school year.

Petition for social service

Julie Beckham of the Alabama Literacy Council asked the commission to assist in providing literacy classes to the 14 percent of Blount County residents who are classified as functionally illiterate. She asked for a partnership between the literacy council and the commission to fund and man a county program. Specifically she asked for assistance in identifying (1) a part-time coordinator to head the program, (2) an advisory council for Blount County, (3) community publicity, participation, and engagement, and (4) $25,000 from the commission to fund the program plus donated office space. The commission will consider the written proposal.

The commission work session normally meets at 9 a.m. on the Thursday before the second Monday of each month. One to three more evening sessions could be held during the year if public interest seems to merit it.