It was a roller-coaster ride. Or maybe a potpourri of spicy entrees might be a better analogy. The Blount County Commission meeting Monday, that is. Here’s a quick, vernacular summary.
First, the commission wrangled over approving the agenda. Then it resolved to urge the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) to bring back football. It gratefully accepted $183 from a group of Cleveland High School students who raised the money to donate to Palisades Park. It commended two Blount County deputies for genuine heroism in the line of duty. It stalemated on a 2-2 vote on whether to accept an approved $30,000 grant to add a 20-acre tract of bluff property to enhance Palisades Park. (The chairman broke the tie; the commission will take the money and buy the property.) Oh, and they passed the annual tax levy – a routine action upon which all annual property tax collections depends.
In the middle of all that, it suddenly evacuated the commission boardroom in an adrenaline rush, on information that an individual who had made a threat against the life of an elected official was loose in the building. That turned out to be exaggerated, incorrect, and otherwise over the top, such that the meeting resumed in good order a few minutes later. That’s the highlights.
On UAB football: Because of UAB’s influence on Blount County as an employer, economic engine, and educator of its youth, and the stated effect of the football program on the university’s reputation and national standing, the commission urged UAB by resolution to re-establish the football program.
On deputies’ commendations for extraordinary service: Deputy James Stephens met a violent threat to public safety with bravery and personal injury to protect others from harm; Deputy Joe Franklin met a violent threat to school children at Hayden with bravery and personal injury to prevent any student from being harmed. Both were highly commended for their bravery and sacrifice in the line of duty.
On the split vote for the $30,000 grant: The split vote turns on differing opinions concerning the intangible values of the land to be purchased for Palisades Park. Is an additional 20 acres that includes an extra 100 yards of scenic rock bluff suitable for attracting climbers and rappellers and a number of acres of large boulders for the newer sport of ”bouldering” worth more than an equivalent-sized tract of better-laying farmland in the nearby area? And is the added land worth the enhancement of tourism prospects for the park and the county? Commissioners Allen Armstrong and Carthal Self thought not. Commissioners Gary Strickland and Dean Calvert saw it differently. That’s oversimplified, but it’s the crux of the matter.
On the 2015 tax levy: The commission approved by resolution the 2015 tax levy, unchanged from last year, as required each year as a routine matter the first business meeting in February. By legislative act in 2014, the tax levy henceforth will remain in effect in subsequent tax years without the necessity of annual commission approval, unless altered by the Blount County Commission pursuant to a change in tax rates by general law.
The levy specifies the following taxes to be collected for the year beginning Oct. 1, 2014, (explanations greatly abbreviated):
• general taxes to operate 9 mills on each $100 of taxable property county government.
• public buildings, bridges, 5 mills on each $100 of taxable property and roads.
• countywide support of public 6 mills on each $100 of taxable property schools.
• school district #1 support of 3 mills on each $100 of taxable property public schools.
• school district #1 support of 1 mill on each $100 of taxable property public schools.
• school district #2 support of 3 mills on each $100 of taxable property public schools.
• school district #2 support of 1 mill on each $100 of taxable property public schools.
• school district #3 (Oneonta) 3 mills on each $100 of taxable property support of public schools.
• support of county hospital, 2 mills on each $100 of taxable property public health facilities.
• forest fire protection, forestry 10 cents per acre of forest land services.
The commission appointed members to board terms for four standing boards:
• Philip Cleveland (former J. B. Pennington principal) reappointed for a six-year term to the Douglas Water Authority.
• Current members Paul Allred (chairman), Douglas Lowe, and Glinda Self reappointed to six-year terms on the Department of Human Resources (DHR) board.
• Dean Gilbert reappointed for six-year term to Remlap-Pine Mountain Water Authority.
• Mitsy Stewart appointed to Palisades Park Board to replace husband Jimmy Stewart, who is resigning; term expires October 2016.
In other actions, the commission:
• authorized the chairman and others to prepare grant application for $400,000 from the state Transportation Alternative Program funds to develop the old U.S. 231 bridge at Cleveland as a tourism walkway and park; subject to final commission approval.
• approved requesting bids for a pothole machine, a chip spreader paving machine, a pneumatic roller, and a self-propelled broom, with specifications to be provided by the county engineer; total package estimated at $530,000 range, and for use by districts on shared basis countywide.
• authorized the human resources manager to approve administrative leave for county employees, in concert with the proper department head.
• declared surplus 13 items of District 3 equipment, 20 defunct Sheriff’s Department vehicles and miscellaneous other items; authorized administrator to sell District 3 items through J. W. Wood Auction Co. and all other items at public auction.
• rejected bid for purchase of used singleaxle truck for District 2 because bid was for a new, not used, truck; authorized rebid for a used truck.
• approved purchase of motor grader for District 3 to be bought through standing state or national bid service; expected bot- tom line cost range, $150,000 with authorized financing.
• authorized taking further local bids to develop county website; approved budget amendments for cost sharing by different departments, reflecting total available funds for the project of $18,400.
• approved budget amendment for District 4 for funds from County Line for road maintenance: $426 to fund 111 and $491 to fund 117.
• approved budget amendment for Juvenile Probation for $250 to purchase books.
• approved transfer of daily road maintenance worksheets from commission office to engineering office to improve accounting for expenses by specific functions.
• authorized chairman to execute agreement with Evans Cemetery Services to replace wooden steps on fire tower at Palisades Park for $1500, to be paid for from park funds.
• authorized administrator to execute agreements with Red Cross and Quality of Life Clinic for office space in the Family Services Center.
• authorized payment of $40 per month to Hayden Middle School for pro-rata share of water usage in courthouse annex office; also authorized payment of $277.12 to help cover cost of high bill for water leakage in a previous month.
• authorized administrator to hire a manager for the Animal Adoption Center, with the recommendation of an appointed interview committee consisting of three commission employees, in addition to veterinarian Dr. Joshua Standridge and animal adoption agency head Mary Ellen Tidwell.
• approved detailed realignment of employee hours of work at Palisades Park, with goal of increasing efficiency without reducing park availability to public; opening and closing times not affected from standpoint of public usage.
Assistant engineer Dustin Stewart reported on the following items:
• The rewrite of subdivision rules and regulations has been completed by the county engineer and will be furnished to commissioners.
• The commission chairman is authorized to sign a pending, approved agreement between the county and the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) for completion of the intersection widening project at the junction of U.S. 231 and county road 26 in Blountsville.
• ATRIP update:
County road 27 project is complete, final inspection is pending.
County roads 47 and 55: paving contract for both to be let Feb. 27.
County roads 8, 26, and 29: paving contracts to be let in March.
County roads 5 and 17: paving contracts to be let by this summer.
The commission went into executive session requested by county attorney Jeff Sherrer to discuss pending litigation. It returned after about 20 minutes and adjourned without further action.
• Severe weather preparedness tax holiday is Feb. 20-22.
• Basic Storm Spotters Training, hosted by the Blount County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and the National Weather Service, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 3 at Hayden Community Center.
Quorum and future meetings
All four commissioners and the commission chairman were present at the Monday business meeting, as were the county administrator and both county attorneys. Assistant engineer Dustin Stewart represented county engineer Winston Sitton, who was absent.
The next commission work session will be Thursday, March 5, at 9 a.m. The next commission business meeting will be Monday, March 9, at 9 a.m.
At approximately 2.5 hours, this was the longest commission meeting in memory. It followed a three-hour work session last Thursday, also the longest.