City going back to restart in Fred’s renovation as municipal center project


The City of New Albany is dropping back to punt concerning renovation of the former Fred’s building for use as a municipal center.

Light, gas and water manager Bill Mattox reminded aldermen this past Tuesday that five bids had been received for the project. They ranged from $5.4 million to $6.5 million for the full specifications and from $4.4 million to $4.8 million for the Fred’s building only.

The project as originally envisioned was expected to cost about $2.5 million before construction costs dramatically increased in conjunction with the COVID pandemic. That’s just too much for the city to afford.

Mattox said something known as “value engineering” is permitted in which the city could negotiate a reduction in bid price up to 10 percent less. “We did all that,” he said, but the low price still was about $4.3 million.

That is still too much to afford without raising taxes.

“The best course of action would be to reject the bids and go back to the specs,” he told the board.

After some brief discussion, aldermen agreed.

Mattox said he expects the architect to be present this time for a meeting with his engineer and the building inspector to remove superfluous elements of the design that don’t affect functionality. This should be done within three weeks and the project will be rebid using the pared-down specifications.

For the time being, only the Fred’s building will be advertised and work on the WIC building delayed indefinitely.

Mattox is in charge of the project because the light, gas and water department issued bonds for the work rather than the city itself. Utility user fees will go to pay off the bond.

Ongoing projects

In other utility business, Mattox was given approval for pay requests in ongoing projects.

KAJACS Construction submitted a bill for $152,203.78 for ongoing construction of the new wastewater treatment plant being built north of the city. Mattox said the $15 million project should be complete by later summer. It is being paid for with a USDA grant and a loan to be paid for with user fees.

Mattox also had a bill from Looks Great Services in the amount of $201,357 for clearing power line right-of-ways. He said the billing is based on mileage and also was allowed to add areas between New Albany and Blue Springs, and a line that goes from near the jail to the sportsplex.

In personnel, Mattox got approval to hire six new employees. They are Jack Herrington, Jarrod McDonald and Chance Weathers in the electric department, Hunter Swords and Kendrick Spight in the gas department and Chris Cook in the wastewater department.

Community Development

In other departmental business, Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud told aldermen that a representative of the Mississippi Development Authority will be in New Albany June 8-10 to discuss the possibility of the city becoming a Designated Retirement Community and someone from the National Park Service will be here next week, June 15-17, to talk about developing the Little Tallahatchie River and park system for recreation and tourism.

She added that the New Albany Main Street Association had been the recipient of two awards. Shop the Block won for outstanding retail promotion and Magnolia Soap and Bath owner Magen Bynum was honored as outstanding entrepreneur.

Union County Heritage Museum

Union County Heritage Museum Director Jill Smith reported that the museum has a wealth of activities planned. She said there are nine for adults and 15 for children including Museum Madness, Museum Moments, Music Across the Tracks, various workshops and other programs. She added that the Union County Historical Society membership drive is currently going on.

Police

Police Chief Chris Robertson received permission to purchase new video cameras for patrol vehicles. The system, a single-source purchase for $5,720, synchronizes the officers’ body cameras with vehicle systems.

The chief also asked permission to make an emergency purchase of a new K-9 vehicle. He said the old SUV was a 2013 model with more than 200,000 miles, and the transmission had gone out. He was allowed to get a new vehicle for $36,017.25, which can come out of drug task force funds.

He added that he is starting to see a lot of maintenance issues with his older vehicles.

Robertson also requesting hiring Terry Rumsey as full-time officer. He said Rumsey is certified, experienced and has been serving part time. He is replacing an officer who resigned to go work at the Tupelo airport, the chief said.

Park and Recreation

Chase Jeter updated aldermen on teams and tournaments coming up at the sportsplex and talked about traffic problems with dozens of cars backed up on Bratton Road and Carter Avenue waiting to enter the facility. Part of the problem was simply communications in that the former park director had retired and the police chief was out due to illness so there was no one to remind those involved to prepare. The problem usually sorts itself out after the first week or two of play, they said.

General business

Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson brought up the out-of-service spray park, asking if the old electrical equipment and the water slide itself could be replaced to make the park usable. Building Inspector Eric Thomas said he would look into those options.

Business owners Terry Young brought up an issue concerning his new car wash on Park Plaza Drive. He said there is a problem with two of the trees beside the road blocking the view of drivers leaving his business. He was concerned about the safety issue as well as possible legal liability if an accident should occur because of drivers having to pull out into the street to see clearly.

He offered several options to move the trees back slightly at his own expense or deal with them otherwise. City officials said the trees fall under the umbrella of the city sustainability committee and they will see if that group will work on this.

In general business, upon recommendation by Alderman Anderson, the board voted to transfer $330,000 from the general fund to the street fund. Anderson said this is money given by Union County to the city in partial payment for shared road maintenance and moving it out of the general fund will help with the city’s beleaguered street repair efforts.

Before adjourning, the board went into executive session to discuss possible litigation, reportedly concerning funding technicalities with the city’s plan to replace all old streetlights with more efficient LEDs.

Mayor Tim Kent was absent due to illness so Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson, who serves as vice-mayor, presided as his last official act. After serving as alderman for 24 years, he decided to not seek re-election this time.

The next scheduled meeting of the board of aldermen will be Tuesday, July 6, when newly elected municipal officers will begin serving.

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