The city’s proposed comprehensive plan, renovating B. F. Ford School, street repairs and a new ordinance regulating food trucks were among items on a crowded agenda for the August meeting of the New Albany aldermen.
A public hearing on the proposed comprehensive plan prepared by the Orion Group was scheduled for Tuesday following its public offering this past month. Instead, the hearing was continued to the September meeting. No reason was given, but the city board should vote on approval then.
The 128-page plan covers a variety of information about the current state of the city, as well as planning and use options for the future. The group is also working to update at least part of the city’s code concerning zoning to make the regulations more user-friendly and up-to-date for the public.
A committee has been formed to pursue making historic B. F. Ford School, formerly the city’s Black school and later an elementary school, a multi-cultural community center. Members Penny Blissett and Cheryl Brewer asked for a commitment to get a structural engineer or architect to examine the building for possible renovation. They want to clean it and make it all useable.
The two said their plans call for the New Albany Boys and Girls Club and the Head Start program to continue using part of the facility. They added that they are not asking for money at this time and expect to have the study done for free or at low cost. The aldermen approved their request.
Street repair has been a continuing subject of discussion for months, but Mayor Tim Kent said repair work has been delayed because of the difficulty in getting a contractor. “There are only two companies that do spot paving,” Kent said. One has not responded and he will talk with the other. The city has purchased a machine that can mill streets prior to paving, but not on any large-scale basis.
A company that will use a different paving process called cape seal is scheduled to be here in early fall.
After working on the subject for several years off and on, aldermen finally passed an ordinance regulating food trucks. The only minor change from what was presented a month ago was to add that if a truck cannot be inspected by the fire chief he can appoint a designee or the building inspector to do so.
The ordinance is a simplified version of what was presented earlier this year, but still addresses health and safety issues. It takes effect 30 days from Aug. 4.
The board meeting was held in the Magnolia Room at the civic center so social distancing could be practiced and Mayor Kent gave a brief update on the coronavirus situation.
“Mississippi numbers are through the roof,” Kent said. “I called (Dr.) H. F. Mason and he is very concerned.” Masks, with social distancing, should be mandatory. However, Gov. Reeves has since made masks mandatory statewide and imposed stricter regulations concerning those with positive test results being quarantined.
Also Tuesday, aldermen chose acting fire chief Mark Whiteside as official chief of the New Albany department. Capt. Mark Sides will become assistant chief. The promotions were covered in a separate story Wednesday.
Light, gas and water
Light, gas and water manager Bill Mattox had good financial news concerning the new wastewater plant under construction. The approximately $14 million project is being funded in part by as USDA grant, but the city also had to obtain a loan to provide funds up front to be reimbursed later.
Mattox said the initial interest rate was 3.1 percent, but as the project was delayed, interest dropped to 2.4 percent. Now, it has been possible to refinance the loan for only 1.5 percent. “This will save way more than the extra cost of the project,” he said.
In a related matter, he received permission to make payments to KAYJACS Construction, Killen Construction and Engineering Solutions for work on the projects.
He also received permission to purchase a half-ton truck for the gas department at the state contract price and asked aldermen to sign a resolution concerning natural gas purchases.
Mattox said there is a group that sells tax-free municipal bonds and uses profits to seek discounted natural gas. This provides savings to cities that can be passed on to customers. He said there is no risk and if the deal is not profitable it will simply go away. “It’s a really good deal,” he said, and the board approved the resolution.
Mattox also noted that he and Police Chief Chris Robertson have been working with architect Ross Barkley concerning renovation of the former Fred’s store and WIC building. “They have been very accommodating,” he said. “We have been working several weeks and hope to have something to show soon.”
Mattox added they hope to have contractors hired by the end of this year and think the renovation will take six to nine months. The Fred’s building will house the light, gas and water and police departments, while municipal court and a city boardroom may be in the separate WIC building.
In other departmental business, Police Chief Robertson recommended hiring Austin Kent to fill a vacancy. He said Kent is from Ecru, has law enforcement experience and is already certified. Aldermen approved.
Robertson told aldermen he has been getting quotes to purchase four more body cameras. He said the cost would be $5,020 and he has some money in the budget. The remainder can come from drug task force funds. Aldermen voted for the purchase.
Acting Fire Chief Mark Whiteside told aldermen that their Assistance to Fire Fighters grant has been approved for an exhaust system. The system connects to fire truck exhausts to keep fumes from building up inside the station and automatically disconnects as trucks leave. The grant will provide nearly $70,000 with the city having to match with about $3,500.
Whiteside told board members that the concrete pad at Station Two has suffered damage and needs to be replaced. Part of the problem is age and use but mostly that since 2011 when it was worked on, fire trucks have gotten much heavier.
The low quote of $40,000 was approved, but he said the work will take about a week so they will have to find some other place to park the trucks. That could be at a nearby parking lot, but may just be at Station One.
Whiteside also talked about plans to expand Station Two. It was built in 1996 and the department has outgrown it, he said. A proposed 30 by 60 foot addition would provide a sleeping area, workout area, bathroom and laundry room. He said now the sleeping area is crowded with firefighters having beds only two to three feet apart for social distancing. The laundry room would allow firefighters to return from a call and remove contaminated clothing there rather than exposing it to other parts of the station. Fire protection funds can be used for the project.
In a separate request, he received permission to sell old air packs to Union County fire departments. He said the old packs are not compatible with their current system and, although the county departments will need to buy new air bottles, the packs will benefit them.
Building, zoning and code enforcement
Building Inspector Eric Thomas held a public hearing on a request to condemn the structure at 530 Church Street. No one spoke against the request and he said the house had been without power for at least 10 years. Aldermen approved the condemnation and the owner has 30 days in which to demolish it or the city will.
Thomas also received permission to tow vehicles at 834 Forrest Heights and 306 Thomas Circle. The vehicles appear to have been left on the street unmoved for several weeks and possibly a couple of months. Proper notification was given, he said.
Thomas added that no meeting was held this month by the planning and zoning committee.
Thomas received emergency approval to have repairs made to stucco on the Magnolia Civic Center. Water damage and mold has occurred and the low bid including all the work was $18,425 from the McClure Construction Company. Money will come from the civic center renovation budget.
Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson brought up the question of placing a three-way stop on Park Plaza Drive to slow down traffic.
Such a stop was tried at the entrance to Tractor Supply Company a year or two ago, but caused more bottleneck problems than help. An alternative suggestion was to have a three-way stop at one of the two entrances to Lowe’s. “I’m sort of grasping at straws,” he said.
Police Chief said he would want to look at the situation more before making a recommendation concerning a three-way stop but can step up enforcement with speeding tickets in the interim.
There was considerable discussion concerning an incident involving a citizen at the Park Along the River.
Mayor Kent said a woman was parked there when a tree limb fell and heavily damaged her car while she was in it. The city’s insurer refused to pay, saying the city was not liable and there was no indication of negligence because the tree was relatively healthy.
The estimate to repair damage was $2,900, likely more that the vehicle is worth, he said. Kent proposed offering the woman $1,200, which she indicated she was willing to accept.
While aldermen were sympathetic to the woman they were afraid of setting a precedent and opening the city to a flood of possibly spurious claims. Board Attorney Regan Russell said the city is not legally liable and the board ultimately asked Russell to contact the insurance company to reconsider for lack of a better decision.
Aldermen approved a request to purchase an electric power generator to be used at the city’s rubbish landfill site. Randy McDaniel contracts with the city to operate the site and he said that it gets very hot there in the summer. There are no trees or shade and a city employee is there, as well.
McDaniel said he has a camper that could be used to escape from the heat, but there is no power available.
Aldermen approved buying the generator for $1,200 and it can be used for other city purposes as needed when the weather cools.
Finally, aldermen approved a request for the city to seek a Mississippi Development Authority grant for repair of the roof on the Emerald Furniture.
While Union County would be the proper applicant, they cannot do so because their audit is not up to date, they said. The agency that has not completed the audit is the State of Mississippi.
The reason for the request is that a potential industrial prospect is interested in the closed Emerald furniture plant. The grant would be justified in that the company would bring 120 jobs and presumably would try to purchase the building from the Emerald owner.
Before adjourning, the board went into executive session to discuss two separate litigation issues. No specifics were given and no action was reported.aldermen, B. F. Ford, comprehensive plan, New Albany, Northeast MS news, street work