LaFayette Sun News

LaFayette debates utility theft- arrest or not

By John Brice

The LaFayette City Council met on Monday, February 13th of 2023 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 David Ennis, Councilman Toney B. Thomas, Councilman Michael C. Ellis and Councilwoman Tammie B. Williams.
Police Chief George Rampey, Fire Chief James Doody, Street, Sanitation and Cemetery Superintendent George Green, Electric Superintendent Chris Sanders, Wastewater Collection Superintendent Richard Chapman, City Clerk Louis T. Davidson and City Attorney Joseph M. Tucker were also present.
First on the agenda was a public hearing on a formal amendment to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program LR-CM-PF-21-001. The hearing began with an invocation led by Police Chief George Rampey and standard procedures such as roll call.
Louise Campbell, grant writer from the L.P. Campbell Company, took to the podium to address the council on the status of the $450,000 CDBG grant and started off by remarking that the parties involved have been trying very hard to get the approval process completed in order for repairs to the city water system to begin. Bids were initially made in July on the proposed repairs, however, they came in much higher than the amount allotted by the terms of the grant which caused the scope of the work to be narrowed down to bring it within budget.
During a review of the revised work proposal an engineer from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs who is overseeing the project rejected the reduction of the repairs and no new bids were received.
Price quotes were requested from the original contract bidders to get a ballpark estimate of what the minimal cost would be for the approved repairs which again came in over the budget of the grant. Negotiations were entered into with the lowest bidder and a budget of $1,322,000 was agreed upon which in turn requires a public hearing and related documents to be completed.
Expectations are for the ADECA engineer overseeing the grant process to approve this course of action which has been made necessary due to what Campbell described as the high cost of materials, expensive demands from contractors who are nervous about working in the lake to remove the screens that are in place. Campbell theorized about the alternative option of canceling the grant altogether and starting over with an application for a new one yet she cautioned against this approach since there is no guarantee of its approval in comparison to the $450,000 grant that is already available.
Councilman Ellis remarked that two residents had complained to him about dirty drinking water in their homes and he asked if this repair project would truly help to improve the water quality to which Campbell reassured him that it would indeed be helpful in resolving these issues which are due in large part to corrosion in old pipes, the motion was approved with a roll call vote and at that point the public hearing was adjourned.
Starting off the regular meeting on the agenda was approval of the minutes from the January 23rd council meeting after which Superintendent Sanders took to the podium. Councilman Mangram raised the issue of an instance of theft of city utility services at the end of January by a resident whose service had been interrupted due to non-payment.
Officers from the LPD had been summoned and a police report was filed, however, the resident in question paid their utility bill and the decision was made not to press charges against them. Mangram asserted that the resident should have been arrested on charges regardless to which Sanders clarified that he had consulted with Mayor Vines who had advised him not to press charges due to past practices of not pursuing legal action that had set a precedent.
Clerk Davidson cautioned against aggressive actions against utility theft that could lead to mass arrests since it is not uncommon in the city for that to transpire, hence running the risk of bad publicity along the lines of what the City of Valley has recently contended with by going viral in the local and national media in the aftermath of their controversial arrests of impoverished citizens with outstanding garbage bills.
Councilwoman Williams countered that sentiment with her own concerns that a lack of enforcement could lead to widespread non-payment of utility services and subsequent theft without fear of repercussions. Mangram emphasized the critical aspect of the deadly dangers of tampering with city electrical equipment and potential liability for grievous injury or death being a primary focus for discouraging this risky and illegal behavior.
Superintendent Green was next up at the podium to notify the council of a proposed purchase of a new garbage truck for the city. Petersen Industries of Lake Wales, Florida currently has a smaller form factor vehicle that would not require a CDL to operate and Green remarked that passing on this opportunity may mean having to wait until later on in the year until another had been manufactured.
Councilman Ellis expressed his support for the purchase due to residents becoming tired of their garbage sitting around uncollected and he recommended the establishment of a new garbage pickup schedule to engage citizens participation in the sanitation process. Votes were cast in approval of the motion for the purchase at the cost of $197,000 which factors in a 2% discount.
Adoption of the annual line item budget for the city was next up on the agenda to which Williams inquired if raises for employees were included and Mayor Vines responded that indeed they were. Ennis made note of his praise for the hard work of Clerk Davidson in crafting the budget and Mangram emphasized recognition of the strides made towards better pay for employees in this budget that while possibly not a perfect solution they are nonetheless a step in the right direction towards a future where evaluations would play a larger role in higher pay.
Another roll call vote was cast to approve the budget which was followed by a vote to convey several cemetery deeds, both were approved and the meeting was then adjourned in order for the council to enter into executive session.

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