Fort Payne considers bonus for first responders

At the May 18 Fort Payne City Council meeting, Council member John Smith suggested the city should give first responders a one-time bonus and proposed that the city name a street leading into the new school after the superintendent who managed its construction. The city attorney also gave an update on efforts to demolish the old DeKalb General Hospital.

Smith said the city should dedicate the $1,063,000 in CARES Act money it has received toward $1,250 bonuses for full-time employees of the police, fire and E-911 departments and $625 for part-time employees of the same.

“Our first responders worked through this every day, never had a day off,” Smith said. “We received updates about how many of them got COVID or had to quarantine. I’d like to take this first payment and reward them.”

City Clerk Andy Parker cautioned that any action would need to be carefully worded to avoid any auditing issues.

The city employs 39 full-time police officers, 41 in the fire department and 13 in E-911, which would cost $116, 250. Eight are employed part-time with the police, six with the fire department and two part-time with E-911. The rough estimate was approximately $122,000.

Council President Walter Watson stated it would be a good gesture of support, but he cautioned that the city’s budget is already filled with obligations and they would need to discuss exactly how much to dedicate in such funding. The issue may come up again at the Council’s next work session or regular meeting.

Smith also expressed a desire to dedicate the name of the street leading into Little Ridge Intermediate School after Superintendent Jim Cunningham, who recently announced he will retire this fall. The local school board wanted to name the entire school after him, but Cunningham asked them not to. City Attorney Rocky Watson, who also serves as the attorney for the board of education, predicted that Cunningham would similarly resist endorsing this gesture.

“We owe [Cunningham] something, something that will last,” Smith said. “He’s done a lot for the Fort Payne City School system.”

The Council voted to ask the school system if it is willing to dedicate the street to become a city street.

Attorney Watson also gave an update on efforts to get paperwork in order to demolish the long-abandoned DeKalb General Hospital building. He said he has the paperwork ready for foreclosure notices as soon as he gets the necessary exhibits to complete property ownership transfer.

Mayor Brian Baine said, “Once that’s done, we can let that out to bid for it to demolish. I think everyone’s anxious to see that thing come down.”

Watson said the bidding could start on a contingency basis that it will only be awarded once the title is received to speed up the process. “That’ll probably speed it up by 30 days or so,” he said.

There is a 30-day period required to advertise the legal notice before action can be taken, but Watson said there was no reason the Council couldn’t authorize bids with the contingent language. Baine said he would consult with Sara James, his contact at the Top of Alabama Regional Council on Governments, before taking action.

On other funding-related matters, Smith mentioned the City might apply before July 12 for a federal transportation grant that may assist toward building a railroad overpass. He noted that there are numerous conditions tied to the grant, including demonstrating economic hardship.

In other business, the Council:

• set June 15 as the date to conduct a public hearing to receive comments on a proposed rezoning ordinance of property located at 408 Turner Avenue S from R-2 (medium density residential) to R-3 (high-density residential). The property is owned by Roy Wells and Nick Jones, located beside Spring Grove Apartments.

• accepted the low bid of $42,178 for a portable sewer pump to replace a rental unit that has been in use at the Terrapin Hills lagoon.

• gave first reading to an ordinance to set the speed limit on Echols Drive at 15 miles per hour and place two stop signs on the road. This is located off Airport Road West and connects to Plasman Corporation and Kudzu Millwork.

• Mike McElhaney thanked the Council for its assistance with the Fort Payne Lions Club’s “Sleep in Heavenly Peace” project. McElhaney, the club’s second vice district governor, encouraged people to assist on June 19 at the VFW Fairgrounds, where the goal is to raise the money to create new $200 beds to donate to local underprivileged children who do not have beds to sleep in. The beds are hand-built by groups of volunteers and provided to the families in need at no cost to them. “There will be professionals there to supervise the use of tools, saws, drills, sanders and staining so they won’t let you do anything detrimental to the project. You just have to show up with a willingness to work,” McElhaney said. “It is unfathomable that there are children under the age of 18 who do not have beds to sleep in. Unfortunately, there is a great need for those beds in our area. Just in the Fort Payne city limits, there are 15 families awaiting beds. Anyone interested in helping can reach me at”

• authorized James Payton of Ladd Environmental to solicit bids for the southern portion of the Airport Road Sewer Project at his discretion depending on favorable supply and price conditions. Attorney Watson explained that there are supply issues with materials, so the wording allows Payton, acting on the city’s behalf, to move quickly as the supplies become available. The project, when completed, will eliminate the need for a costly pump station to move waste to the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. Council member John Smith asked about the process of getting property easements and Watson explained how the city involves appraisers, appoints commissioners to establish value and goes through Probate if necessary with the condemnation process. The easements do not affect most use of property as long as a building is not constructed on top that would have to be torn down to access the utility lines.

• Mayor Baine announced that the downtown sidewalks project should hopefully reach the design phase by early July and go out to bid in mid- to late-fall, making the walkways fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Annual repaving of Gault Avenue has built up around sidewalk curbing ramps, making them difficult for people with mobility issues to use.

• Ken Mayo spoke on behalf of Fort Payne Main Street, announcing the group will host a Touch-a-Truck event for local children and families on June 5 at 8 a.m. It will happen at the Farmers Market on Fifth Street North. Vehicles will include one of the city school’s electric school buses, a Heil garbage truck, an Army Humvee, a DeKalb Ambulance Service vehicle, and more.

• Council members gave updates on various department activities.

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