Fort Payne wishlist greater than its checkbook

Among the items discussed at Tuesday’s work session were development of the new city athletic complex, use of parking spaces at the existing soccer field complex by employees of Heil Co. and how to eliminate the hazardous turn at the base of Lookout Mountain known as “Joe’s Truck Stop.”

The Fort Payne City Council held a brief meeting on Tuesday with a public hearing to receive public comments on a proposed re-zoning of property followed by a long work session touching on several frequent topics.

The Council gave second reading to and approved an ordinance establishing a speed limit on Echols Drive. They discussed installing windows from Kudzu Millworks on the front of the small building where Fort Payne Main Street is re-locating to make it more energy efficient and will revisit the issue with price estimates. Council Member Phillip Smith said the airport committee reported that the complete repaving of the tarmac will be put off until August due to heavy traffic relating to flyers dropping their children off at the Mentone summer camps.

After the regular meeting adjourned, the work session revisited topics including:

• acquiring a study conducted by the Alabama Department of Transportation to apply for a grant to help offset the costs of projects to eliminate Joe’s Truck Stop and build a railroad overpass,

• a timetable for demolition of the old DeKalb General Hospital,

• a discussion of “messy” sewer issues relating to the Terrapin Hills subdivision,

• the status of a proposal for the Fort Payne Fire Department to offer a competitive ambulance service and related discussions with Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, who told city leaders he wouldn’t support DeKalb cities and towns going after their portion of existing taxes levied on millage that now provides funding to the DeKalb Ambulance Service,

• how to best proceed with construction at the proposed new sports complex,

• Heil Co. use of parking lots at the existing soccer field complex while expanding their facilities,

• how to draft a 2021-22 city budget and determine spending priorities,

• how to review the pay scale for city employees and make adjustments to be more competitive with surrounding communities,

• hiring local accounting firm MDA to help the city meet guidelines while applying for a second round of CARES Act funding from the federal government,

• discussing how local sales tax receipts have held up during the pandemic,

• procedures for determining how many terms someone can serve on a local city-appointed board,

• the status of charging stations for electric vehicles on Fifth Street North,

• use of the basement under the City Auditorium by the Bread of Life and American Legion as it relates to the legality of offering the use of city-owned properties to local non-profits, and

• recruiting the Poarch Band of Creek Indians now so they are more likely to build a luxury resort and casino in Fort Payne (rather than Jackson County) after the Alabama Legislature likely revisits the matter next year and may get a casino initiative on the 2022 ballot

All of the items the city wants and needs total $31 million, but City Hall only has $19 million available to spend.

Some of the items are critical necessities like $4.6 million to gut the old City Hall building so the police department has a healthier and more secure workplace, purchasing a new firetruck, replacing aging equipment at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, updating the 911 system, sewer upgrades, building the new soccer complex, and various other projects.

The Council plans to begin working on next year’s budget this summer so they can avoid passing one several months into the new fiscal year.

Council President Walter Watson continues to push for setting money aside for a rainy day fund in a balanced budget that prioritizes wish list items contingent upon better-than-expected revenues.

City Attorney Rocky Watson commented on several of the topics, expressing frustration with the difficulty involved in acquiring documents from third parties to foreclose on the old hospital property or resolve the matter of who is responsible for the lagoon and collection system at Terrapin Hills, where the Alabama Department of Environmental Management asked the city to use a pump to prevent further discharges of pollutants into Wills Creek. Watson said the next step may be to seek a declaratory judgment because he can’t recommend the city connect the subdivision onto the city sewer lines until the matter is resolved.

The Times-Journal will report in greater depth about these discussions in upcoming editions.

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