Fire Chief Steve Coker announced at the New Albany Board of Aldermen’s meeting Tuesday that he plans to retire effective Feb. 28 due to health reasons.
Coker has a long firefighting history, having served as volunteer before becoming chief in May 2011 and having served as Union County Fire Coordinator for roughly 12 years. He resigned from that position at the first of the year.
Aldermen expressed surprise and disappointment that Coker is leaving and no plans to find a new chief were mentioned.
Also at the meeting, aldermen paused to remember Callie Daniels Bryant, who died as the result of an auto accident recently. Bryant worked briefly as a reporter here but that was overshadowed by her work with the Union County Humane Society.
Mayor Tim Kent and Ward One Alderman Amy Livingston talked about her contributions, essentially taking leadership of the organization a year ago and facilitating adoption of about 600 animals. Livingston said many memorials are coming in to the humane society in memory of Bryant.
In public appearances, aldermen heard a brief update on the Junior Aldermen program from some class members. Several were not present due to final play rehearsals going on at New Albany High School.
This is the third class and 20 students were selected for the program. Participants are divided into three groups and have chosen projects to undertake. One group is seeking grant funding to paint murals around the city with historical significance and also designed to help promote tourism. A second group will work with the Boys and Girls Club and HeadStart and also restore some of the city murals existing. The third group wants to pursue funding and plans for community emergency shelters, and possibly renovating some of the former Civil Defense fallout shelters in the city.
In miscellaneous business, Mayor Tim Kent presented a proposal for aldermen to consider concerning the city’s motto.
New Albany has been called “The Fair and Friendly City” since 1930 or earlier, but lately some people have noted that the motto is generic and is something any city should aspire to, not providing any information specific to New Albany.
He said that museum director Jill Smith had suggested using either “In the Heart of the Mississippi Hills” or “In the Heart of the Heritage Hills.”
Kent asked the aldermen to consider the issue and possibly vote on a change at the March board meeting.
The board voted to renew its agreement with the Union County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office under which the county office collects taxes on behalf of the city. The agreement makes it more convenient for city taxpayers as well as city officials and the county office receives 1.5 percent of the tax paid for its services.
In a somewhat related matter, the board approved police officer Jeff Chism to act as hearing officer for debt collection of fines in municipal court. A law has been passed that allows the city collect delinquent fines, if necessary, by taking them from the defendant’s possible state income tax refund. If a defendant chooses to appeal that, Chism will be the hearing officer.
The question of maintaining the city cemetery came back up. This past year the city had advertised for bids on the work but made no decision at the time.
Tuesday, Ward Four Alderman Will Tucker proposed that a one-year contract be awarded to Lawn Management Services owned by Brian Bramlett at a cost of $44,820, according to city officials. The proposal includes mowing the entire cemetery at least once a week, removing or adding dirt as needed, disposing of dead flowers and performing other landscape maintenance.
The work has been performed by Steve Hall for about 13 years at a cost of $40,000 per year but the submitted bids this past year were $45,000, the official said. It was determined that competitive bidding was not required for the work.
The four aldermen present voted to approve the contract; Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson was absent.
In department business, light, gas and water manager Bill Mattox received approval for several pay requests concerning the ongoing wastewater treatment plant, Marshall County gas expansion and Hwy. 348 water expansion projects, some of which are nearing completion.
Mattox reported on emergency repairs to the water well on Wesson Tate, noting the refurbished pump is actually producing more water than for many years. He also reported that the USDA is providing grant funds to repair a washout involving the sewer line at King’s Creek on Murrah Road.
He gave a brief update on investigation into the possibility of his department providing broadband internet access to customers.
He reminded aldermen that a law was passed this past year to allow utility cooperatives to provide the service if they want. However, New Albany’s department is city-owned and not a cooperative. Holly Springs and Okolona are in the same situation, he added. “We were not included in that language,” he said, continuing, “An attorney general’s opinion says that the city cannon offer service.”
While that implied further investigation would be pointless, Mattox did say, “We don’t want our customers to be left out.”
In personnel, Mattox received approval to hire Keyla Dixon and Amy Willard to work in administration for the light, gas and water department.
Mattox told aldermen that county officials are having an auction to sell surplus and seized items including heavy equipment and firearms March 7 and his department has a 1997 bucket truck with 40-foot arm that will be in the sale as well.
Building inspector and zoning administrator Eric Thomas presented his monthly permit report and told aldermen that the planning and zoning board has reviewed and now recommends the draft version of the New Albany NEXT comprehensive plan likely to be publicly presented in the next month or two.
aldermen, Fair and Friendly City, fire chief, New Albany, Union County