Fort Payne reviews needs ahead of transition

Current and incoming Fort Payne City Council members met in a work session to achieve focus on the city's most pressing needs as a new administration is sworn in next month. 

At an informational work session last week, the Fort Payne City Council discussed a wide range of projects and needs, from making improvements to the city sewer system to the progress in developing new recreational facilities.

Incoming city council members Walter Watson, John Smith and Phillip Smith discussed these topics with incumbents Lynn Brewer, Johnny Eberhart, Wade Hill and Brian Baine, along with City Attorney Rocky Watson.

The lion’s share of the work session went to talking about the new 296-acre sports complex that broke ground off Martin Avenue in late September. The property under development is located next to Vulcraft and extends up to the brow of Lookout Mountain.

Plans call for the construction of six regulation soccer fields, one multipurpose field, five softball fields for men and women, four baseball fields, one “miracle field” for baseball players with disabilities, an amphitheater, disc golf area, a 3.2 mile/5K walking trail, mountain bike trails, and a dog park. The addition of a proposed RV park and campgrounds are expected to generate year-round revenue to fund park maintenance, and the city is saving at least $280,000 by doing on-site work itself. The city has also sold the timber cleared on the property.

The group discussed installing at least some of the fields using artificial turf so it can more readily host tournaments that will attract thousands of players and their parents for various athletic competitions. Hill, who took a leadership role in the complex, said the artificial turf costs more up-front, but will eventually save money and allow for faster use after rains. The existing soccer fields across the street from Heil will continue to be used as supplemental fields in tournaments or as practice fields.

They also discussed the need for a replacement swimming pool, which might take the form of an indoor aquatic center or include some sort of water park to make it more economically feasible. The council also discussed public demand for an outdoor basketball court.

Council members also discussed available funding for additional enhancements to the city sewer system, describing how approximately $10 million from a $45 million bond issue authorized in March 2018 was invested in general obligation projects such as replacing sewer lines on Airport Road and eliminating the need for costly pump stations for long-term savings.

After investing $20 million in the Little Ridge Intermediate School set to open next fall and various other needs, roughly $2 million in bond money remains available to spend. Enhancements made to the wastewater treatment plant costing $665,000 were part of the completed work.

The city needs another $4 million to complete the middle section at “Dead Man’s Curve” that will connect the sewer lines on Airport Road to the expansion lines using $8.3 million in low-interest State Revolving Fund money that will eliminate the pump station at 49th Street and the pump station at the Terrapin Hills lagoon to service 286 homes in the subdivision.

Among other topics:

• leasing highway billboards to better promote Fort Payne’s ties to country music superstars Alabama and Little River Canyon National Preserve, as well as the Field School operated by Jacksonville State University, to travelers passing through.

• adding more classrooms at Fort Payne High School to fill the space between buildings and make the campus more secure.

• proposed state repaving of Gault Avenue now that water lines were relocated elsewhere and completing the widening of “Rainey corner” on Fifth Street North.

• developing opportunity zones and tax credits for retailers that are similar to the incentives given to large manufacturers.

• resolving ongoing legal issues.

• keeping pressure on the state to develop a railroad overpass and provide funding to demolish the old DeKalb General hospital.

• providing for employee salaries and explaining the city budgets.

Watson said other work sessions will be needed to discuss these and other matters in sufficient detail, and he encouraged the council to work as a cohesive team whose members will not always agree but can work out differences in an amicable way.

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