By John Brice
The LaFayette City Council met on Monday, May 22nd 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 and Councilman Michael C. Ellis. City Clerk Louis T. Davidson, City Attorney Joseph M. Tucker, Fire & EMS Chief Jim Doody and Electric Department Superintendent Chris Sanders were also present. The meeting began with an invocation led by Councilman Mangram and standard procedures such as roll call as well as approval of the minutes from the previous meeting.
First up on the agenda was a gas investment fund discussion which detailed the city’s financial resources that are designated for its natural gas system which had been managed by T.D. Ameritrade with no charges for that service up until recently when Charles Schwab acquired the finance firm and are now intent on charging the city fees for its services.
Next up were discussions regarding appointments for the Board of Adjustment and Housing Authority with the council approving the motions to appoint Emily Milford to the Board of Adjustment and reappoint Peggy King to the Housing Authority.
Purchasing new football equipment for youth athletic leagues was the next topic of discussion where Councilman Mangram emphasized the need to conduct a thorough inventory of what was already in possession before purchasing any new equipment to which Councilman Ennis asked if participating families would be contributing funds towards this expense. Mangram explained that families are already paying dues for recreational participation and expressed the concern that the city could find itself in a financial shortfall if registrations do not meet expectations.
Councilman Ellis remarked that the registration fee is merely $50 which is a low cost compared to comparable programs in the area which may be inadequate for covering the city’s expenses and recommended delaying the purchase until the council met with the recreation board to confirm the number of registrations. He further noted that these programs should be self sufficient without the city endlessly footing the bill.
Councilman Thomas emphasized the need to have proper temperature controlled storage otherwise the money spent on equipment would likely be wasted yet again as it has in the past. Mayor Vines interjected that the inventory is already somewhat of a known quantity, a portion of which has been confirmed to be damaged and the best course of action is to move forward with the purchase and ensure that it is stored properly in the future.
Mangram stated that the maintenance of the equipment should not be the city’s responsibility, instead the recreation department and participating families need to be held accountable for its care. Clerk Davidson insisted that it was his understanding that none of the existing equipment was in usable condition to which Ellis inquired how much fundraising and sponsorship money could be expected to go towards the cost before deciding how much the city would commit to financially supporting the purchase leading to the approval of a motion to table the discussion until the necessary information relevant to the purchase had been gathered.
Clerk Davidson then initiated a discussion regarding public trash cans around the downtown square where he shared that Main Street LaFayette had requested the existing garbage receptacles be replaced since they are old and worn looking. He noted that Superintendent Green had estimated that a minimum of 12 new cans would be needed with the ideal amount being 15, each coming in at an estimated price of $1,000 a piece which could end up totaling well over $10,000 for the entire expense. Members of the council collectively balked at the exorbitant price tag and the discussion was tabled until a more reasonable cost could be procured.
Next up was a discussion related to the removal and closure of underground storage tanks near city hall that had contained gasoline for city vehicles until their usage ceased roughly a decade ago. Davidson clarified that if there had been leaks in the tanks which were determined to have contaminated the nearby soil the Superfund program provided by the federal Environmental Protection Agency would cover the cleanup costs. He noted that the city would need to spend $15,000 on proposals for the removal and closure of the tanks regardless of soil contamination and that if testing determined that it had occurred the city would need to pay a $5,000 deductible on top of the other costs.
Engineer Allen Tucker explained that there is a time limit on the availability of the superfund assistance which prompted the council to approve the motion for the proposals to be agreed to so that the work project can begin within the next month.
Subsequently Mayor Vines made mention of the negative impact that the closure of the local dialysis center had upon citizens with many of them needing to travel to neighboring areas for treatment. Chief Doody remarked that the suspension of that service was due to a staffing shortage since a registered nurse is required to be onsite for that medical care to be provided and the last caregiver who had been filling that position had resigned due to the burden of having to commute from Birmingham.
Council members Mangram, Thomas and Ellis each then took the time to express their gratitude towards the city’s employees and various departments in dealing with issues such as illegal mattress dumping, power outages and maintenance of the baseball field in the city park.
Thomas asked Superintendent Sanders to update the council on the power outage that had been caused by a squirrel making contact with a live wire near the police department on the morning of Sunday, May 21st. Sanders assured the council that his department was conducting extensive research into the latest technology available and working hard to upgrade the electrical system with affordable solutions to minimize this dire situation from recurring.
In the following time allotted there was a discussion of the awarding of surplus bids, the motion for which was approved by a roll call vote to accept those bids. Allen Tucker provided updates on repairs being made to the city’s water system in the aftermath of severe damage caused by heavy rainstorms in March which led to the council approving a motion with another roll call vote to open a $1,000,000 line of credit for spillway repairs with Farmers and Merchants Bank. Several cemetery deeds being conveyed were included in a single motion that was swiftly approved and the meeting was adjourned.