City officials grappling with lack of mask use in face of increasing COVID numbers

Mayor Tim Kent checks an agenda item as he conducts the December board meeting via Zoom.
December 2nd, 2020     Featured Government & Politics

The New Albany Board of Aldermen went back to meeting via Zoom rather than in person Tuesday in light of the continuing COVID-19 crisis.

“I’m sorry I feel like we’re having to do this through Zoom,” Mayor Tim Kent said. “But those numbers are just so high. We want to do our part to keep the numbers as low as possible and I don’t know if that’s doing any good, but anyway those numbers are higher than in April or March as far as statewide goes.”

The mayor said he is also considering stepping up preventative measures since the situation seems to be worsening.

“I do want to tell you I talked today, I’ve talked with Regan (board attorney Regan Russell),” he said. “We are under a mask mandate but don’t exactly know how to enforce it.” The governor has added Union County to the list of high-risk counties requiring mask use in public buildings, but the executive order has no real teeth in it.

Kent said, “Tomorrow we’re going to send businesses a letter and call them and ask them to help us on this. They did good on this last time.”

“We’re going to approach it like this because we don’t have enough police to go to everyone who’s not wearing a mask to write a ticket, you know,” he said. “So we’re going to approach it that way to start with and see if that will help because people are getting really lax on wearing masks and I am getting a lot of calls.”

A reminder about the mask requirement is going to be posted on social media as well. There was an inference that if this doesn’t help something else may be needed.

Rather than simply practicing social distancing in a large room as aldermen have done at recent meetings, all elected officials and department heads took the extra precaution of participating remotely for the December meeting Tuesday, with the exception of Ward One Alderwoman Amy Livingston who was absent.


Although the meeting only lasted slightly more than 20 minutes, the city board did deal with a couple of long-term issues.


LED streetlights

In department business, light, gas and water manager Bill Mattox gave an update on plans to replace all old city streetlights with new LED fixtures.

Mattox reminded aldermen that he had been given permission to seek proposals for the project and had received two: one from PATH Company and one from Integrity Lighting.

“They both looked good but, overall, I thought PATH’s presentation was better,” Mattox said. That company has also already done some preliminary work on the project so he recommended them.

Aldermen approved a contract that will allow the company to begin an audit of streetlights to determine an accurate count as well as determine whether areas are too light or too dark.

The only financial risk to the city, he said, would be if the city abandoned the project after the audit. The city would then owe the company $35,000 but, otherwise, that cost would be absorbed in the overall project.

The project is expected to cost about $1.5 million but the company says the city will save as much as $1 million over a 20-year period.

The project would be paid for out of energy cost savings and Mattox estimated the payback period could range from 10 to 15 years. The conversion will take about eight months, once a design is approved.

Typical life of the lighting fixtures was said to be 22 years.

City streetlights are actually owned by the electric department rather than the city.


Cable TV

In a matter that only comes up every five or 10 years, aldermen considered the franchise agreement the city has with MaxxSouth Broadband for cable television service.

The current five-year agreement is expiring and the company is asking for renewal.

Mayor Kent said the franchise is non-exclusive but the city has talked with other providers and no one is interested in coming to New Albany. Attorney Russell noted that, “I think they don’t like stepping on each other’s toes.”

Currently, the cable provider is paying the city three percent, which amounts to about $9,000 per quarter (it was not clarified whether this is three percent of their total income, profit or what). Russell said the city can raise the rate to a maximum of five percent, but not until the end of the next quarter.

Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson raised another possibility. “I would like to keep the three percent and see them lower costs to customers,” he said. “I know they’re not but I wish they would.”

Ultimately, the board voted to tentatively keep the three-percent rate but talk with them about a rate increase.


Department business:

In other department business, light, gas and water manager Mattox received approval to pay two more bills relating to the new wastewater treatment plant under construction and moving toward completion north of New Albany. One bill was for $744,702 to KAJACS construction and the other was for $20,382 to Engineering Solutions. The project is being funded in large part by a USDA grant.


Community development

Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud reported that holiday sales this past weekend were good locally, based on surveying local merchants.

“All merchants say they are having a banner year,” she said. “I can’t explain it other than that people are staying home and buying into shopping locally.”



Police Chief Chris Robertson gave a brief update on the National Crime Information Computer, the national network that provides information on crimes, criminals, car license plates, drivers’ licenses, insurance status, outstanding warrants, stolen items and myriad other tools necessary for law enforcement.

Robertson said he has been notified that the State of Mississippi is signing a contract with C-Spire to provide service for NCIC, but New Albany and Union County have been using AT&T.

“They want us to sign a commitment by Dec. 11,” he said. “Really, we don’t have any choice.” But there is really no cost, he added, and although they want a commitment now the conversion deadline is not until early 2022. He said he hopes the police department will be in the former Fred’s building by then and the conversion can occur with that move rather than being an extra change.



Fire Chief Mark Whiteside told aldermen that the department’s thermal camera had been lost this past month. He said it apparently was not secured to the truck and fell off in the vicinity of Reed’s Market.

Efforts to have it returned by whoever found it have been unsuccessful so far. “It’s no good to anybody once the battery runs down; we would have to charge it,” he said.

However, he said, the department has insurance, which has agreed to cover the loss, less a $250 deductible. The old camera was insured for $8,900 but a new one, which is a single-source purchase, will only cost $7,068. The fire department will have to pay the $250 deductible with the insurance company picking up the rest. If the old camera is returned it will go to the insurance company.

Whiteside also reported that the new truck exhaust vent system is installed at Stations One and Two. The system connects to fire truck exhausts to vent harmful fumes outside the building and automatically disconnect as trucks leave.

He said they have already noticed the difference when trucks are started and the lack of exhaust inside the stations has reduced fan use.

Most of the $66,599 cost will be reimbursed through a grant, leaving the cost to the New Albany department at $3,505, which will come out of fire protection funds.


Solid waste

In an annual matter in general business, aldermen were asked to select a representative for the Three Rivers Solid Waster Authority. “I’ve been it since I’ve been here,” Mayor Kent said. “I think that’s the way they like it, unless one of you would like to serve.”

None volunteered and aldermen voted for the mayor to continue as New Albany’s representative.


In routine business, aldermen approved the November claims docket and Nov. 4 minutes.

The next meeting of the New Albany aldermen is not scheduled until after the first of the year, Tuesday, Jan. 4.

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