By John Brice
The LaFayette City Council met on December 12th of 2022 at the Chambers County Farmers Federation Agricultural Center at the ALFA building in LaFayette. In attendance were Mayor Kenneth Vines, Councilman Terry G. Mangram, Councilman Toney B. Thomas, Councilman Michael C. Ellis and Councilwoman Tammie Williams. Police Chief George Rampey, Fire Chief Jim Doody, Superintendent George Green, City Clerk Louis T. Davidson, and City Attorney Joseph M. Tucker were also present. The meeting began with an invocation led by Councilman Mangram and standard procedures such as roll call.
Prior to the regular meeting a public hearing was held on the application for the Environmental Facilities Plan for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the application for the Environmental Facilities Plan for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Dave Bechtel from Utility Engineering Consultants took to the podium to discuss the situation regarding grants for the city’s wastewater and drinking water plants.
Three years ago the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, who operate under the supervision of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, designed the grants to assist the city with their water plants. Bechtel clarified that the wastewater plan will be able to complete all needed maintenance within the budget of its existing grant, however, the drinking water plant requires such extensive repairs and upgrades that the grant written for it would not cover the expenses.
One of the key factors making the situation unmanageable is inflationary price pressures on critical materials needed for repairs. Borrowing money would be one way to bridge that budgetary shortfall, however, Bechtel recommended against that approach based on his prior experience in the field. Several council members requested a prioritized list of needed repairs before approving the motion to sign resolutions to move forward with the grants and adjourn the public hearing.
Clerk Davidson took to the podium to begin the regular meeting where he provided updates on the utility software program proposal. In reviewing the request for proposal bidding process in which three vendors participated, he announced that the leading contender is Computer Network, Inc. with a cost of $18,950.
Davidson remarked that the City of Lanett was already under a contract with CNI for the same billing software platform and recommended them highly. Technical support would cost $795 per quarter for the gold package that they offer. Councilman Mangram inquired as to what potential impact this new system would have on a move to a new city hall building to which Davidson reassured the council that it would be minimal.
Councilwoman Williams proposed a motion to proceed with the software contract which was then approved. At that point the Christmas Luncheon December 20th at 12:00 pm hosted by the city was announced.
During the open portion of the meeting Councilman Thomas raised the issue of the drastic need for availability of open grave sites at the city cemetery due to a high percentage of the local population being advanced in age with many residents passing away on a regular basis. Thomas expressed his shared concerns with Councilwoman Williams and requested Superintendent Green to come forward for a discussion on the matter at hand.
Green stated that there were currently fifteen grave sites available. Thomas reiterated the dire need for more graves and emphasized the uniform intention to move forward by any means possible to which Green responded that new grounds were under preparation and in need of surveying.
Clerk Davidson stepped forward to clarify that he had recently contacted Chris Clark Grading and Paving Inc, the contractor currently working on the cemetery project, who in turn stated that they are waiting on the surveying company Harris Gray to proceed.
Councilwoman Williams asked if the city was under contract with Clark to which Councilman Ellis interjected that there had been a long history of issues with Clark’s work for the city and wondered aloud how anyone could be surprised by the continuing issues plaguing their projects. Ellis reflected on what he felt may be unfavorable treatment towards LaFayette in completing work when Clark’s projects often complete on time when they are in contract with the cities of Valley or Lanett. Always settling for the lowest bidder is an approach that Ellis called into question.
Mayor Vines qualified those statements by identifying the core problem disrupting the successful completion of different projects is that it seems it is always the same two companies contracting for every bid. Green responded that larger companies had been contacted to potentially bid on these projects, however, they were already committed to larger scale jobs with much higher budgets.
Councilman Ellis mentioned a conversation with an Alabama Department of Transportation employee that he had recently had outside the courthouse in which it was mentioned that crosswalks would be constructed in the near future.
Mayor Vines brought up a distressing phone call he had received from a resident in regards to the dialysis clinic in LaFayette closing down. Traveling further distances for the medical treatment poses serious challenges for patients who are often physically drained afterwards. News of the shuttering had only come through word of mouth up until this point with many finding out via facebook without any official statement from the private company operating the facility.
Vines mentioned that the understanding of most people involved with the clinic was that they no longer had a nurse on duty that is required full time for operation and that staffing shortage is what had prompted the closure. Chief Doody offered to reach out to contacts that he has for a replacement nurse and Councilwoman Williams raised the concern that if the clinic does not reopen the owner of the property could put that building up for sale. With those last remarks the motion to adjourn was approved.