Jackson County Chairman Bill Nance recently provided an update to The Clarion Newspaper regarding all the work the Commission is doing for the county.“First, I’d like to say thank you for the opportunity to have some time for an update to the citizens of Jackson County on some of the activities of the Jackson County Commission and our departments,” Nance stated. “It has been a busy month or two, and we have a lot of projects going on. I want to give some updates on some of those.”
The first subject Nance covered was the 2023 June Grand Jury report. The Jackson County Grand Jury isn’t just responsible for reviewing cases brought before them, but they also tour the courthouse and each department, along with meeting with the courthouse staffs. After their meetings and tours, they provide an assessment and recommendations regarding any issues they hear about or see. In their last report, the Grand Jury gave several recommendations regarding the courthouse.
“The first note they gave was they found the courthouse clean and well maintained, and we appreciate that. We have a staff that works every day to take care of that, and we think they do a very good job for us,” Nance stated. “But they also identified some issues and provided some recommendations. Some of the issues have been consistent from report to report, and some of these items are areas we are working on now.”
In the report, it was recommended that the public bathrooms be updated as the current facilities are outdated and in need of an update. Nance stated the commission will take some time to get involved at looking at how they can update those bathrooms.
Next, Nance addressed the famous courthouse elevator. While the elevator is perfectly safe, if loud, Nance stated they will also address that issue from the report.
One of the areas discussed in the report is the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.
“The mission that our sheriff’s office has,” Nance stated “we recognize they are under-staffed, and they need some additional equipment. That’s an area that we are trying to work on and will continue to try to work on.”
Members of the grand jury included the courthouse foundation/structural issues in their report. This is also not the first time this has been presented in a grand jury report.
“The courthouse is very safe, but we have known for a while that we have a foundational issue that we need to address,” Nance stated. “A couple weeks ago, we engaged an architectural firm that is helping us with that. They have provided us with a 35% design assessment to upgrade the courthouse to resolve structural issues.”
Nance stated the report laid out the causes of the structural issues, as well as the plan for fixing them, entailing stabilizing the structure, repairing the structure of the courthouse and also repairing areas where there is cracking in the basement walls. The assessment also includes a plan for repairing any cosmetic issues the courthouse has due to aging.
This plan will also address repairing and upgrading an outside bathroom on the north side of the courthouse. This bathroom has been out of use due to the damage caused by some of the courthouse’s structural settling. The recommended repair would include a complete upgrade of that bathroom and also make accessible a second bathroom that is nearby. This would establish a men’s room and a women’s room that would be used for outdoor events that occur around the courthouse.
“We are making sure they are fully ADA compliant with ADA provisions,” Nance stated. “We would include on one side of the steps, by removing the steps, a platform that anyone who is in a wheelchair would be able to have a lift platform to lower them so they can get to a bathroom.”
The courthouse roof was also pointed out, and Nance stated he has been up there himself and is aware that there are several places in need of repair. The gutters area is also in need of repair. With all of the repairs, Nance termed it as a long-awaited refreshing of the historic structure that is needed.
“The design process is we will get a further 65% design and then a 95% design. Then we’ll be ready to put this activity, repair of the structure, out for bid,” Nance stated. “We’re hoping to be in a position to have those bids in the November timeframe.”
Crowded conditions were also noted in the report again. The commissioners have been working on a project to redesign the Liberty Lane building to house the Revenue Office, the Probate Office, the County Extension offices, the Driver’s License testing office and the Community Action offices. The Liberty Lane building used to house DHR, and has been sitting empty. The Commission has met with an architectural firm for a layout and all the agencies, offices and directors they plan to move into the building.
According to Nance, the floorplan has been finalized, along with the layout.
“Most of the activity that citizens come to the courthouse to do will be moved to this facility, making it very accessible to people coming to town to conduct their county business and shop,” Nance stated. “They won’t have to come downtown, and they would have adequate parking.”
Nancy stated they expect to get the 35% design for the building modifications within the next couple of weeks, and they also hope to have that ready for bid by November of this year. Once completed, most of the county services that citizens interact with will be in that building.
Once that happens, it will leave extra room in the courthouse for judicial offices and all county law enforcement offices, which was another recommendation from the Grand Jury.
Nance then provided an update on some of the work the county’s staff is doing regarding grants and finding ways to supplement the county revenue.
“Our county is continuously searching for grant opportunities to help our county,” Nance stated. “I’d like to say thanks to Misty Perkins, our Projects and Grants Coordinator. She stays busy with that on a day-to-day basis. I’d also like to say thanks to our department heads and their staff because they’re also looking in their areas for grant opportunities to supplement their budgets.”
The county has recently received several large grants to help with funding projects that are needed throughout the county. They are as follows:
A $187,500 grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Development Agency office out of Atlanta. This will allow the county to hire a community planning consultant to help the county develop a county plan.
“That plan will be focused on, as we see this tremendous growth that Madison County and Huntsville have, as Jackson County prepares for the opportunities that growth presents,” Nance stated. “The consultant will be tasked with interviewing citizens, agencies within the county, municipalities within the county, businesses and county leaders throughout the government and education and other areas.”
Nance stated the consultant will also assess all elements in sectors of the county’s development and economic growth, such as, residential, retail, agriculture, tourism, education. Then they will assess the Jackson County infrastructure to ensure it is adequate for the growth opportunities coming in the future. These areas include water, sewer, gas, county roads, broadband and other areas.
“This will, in the end, provide us with a plan on how to address any issues,” Nance stated “and what to expect in any future growth opportunities in the county.”
Three grants from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).
One for $150,000 county right-of-way grant to assist in looking at cleaning up county roads. This grant is focused on funding areas where people have put bulk items on the road the county would have to clean up. The county will be working with their municipalities and commissioners for each of the districts to make recommendations on how to use those funds.
One for $150,000 county right-of-way grant to assist the county in cleaning up tires and other items from the side of the road, allowing the county to dispose of those items without it being at cost to the county.
A $150,000 county stormwater project grant, allowing the county to look at issues with stormwater and how to improve the conditions for dealing with the stormwater.
“The project we’ve identified is on County Road 88, and it is a covered area over Rorex Creek,” Nance stated. “The project cost for that will be about $223,000. We’ll use the $150,000 from the grant and supplement that with the Public Works Department.”
A $282,000 ATRIP grant from Governor Ivey to resurface a portion of County Road 19. This will cover about two and a half miles of road.
A $400,000 grant from FEMA to allow the county to procure four storm shelters to be placed at K-12 schools in addition to the shelters already in place there.
“This will provide more space for us to take care of our students in the event of dangerous weather,” Nance stated. “We have that out for bid now, and we expect bids to be in by the 13th of July. Then we will update later on when we’re ready to begin placing the shelters.”
The Alabama Department of Transportation has entered into an agreement with the county and will be providing $450,000 to repair three bridges. Recently Chairman Nance and County Engineer Jonathan Campbell met with ALDOT and updated them on where the county was with roads in Jackson County and made a request for their help with the county to repair the three bridges. The first bridge is located on County Road 18 over Kirby Creek. The second is on County Road 145 over Boxes Cove Creek, and the third is on County Road 354 over Spring Hill Creek.
Nance stated the bridges had reached a state that required inspection every three months to ensure the weight limit on the bridges didn’t need to be dropped down, which would cause a limit on which vehicles could cross the bridges. This included school buses.
“This year, our Alabama Legislature, thanks to Senator Steve Livingston and Representatives Mike Kirkland and Ritchie Whorton, has awarded another $200,000 to help us with our courthouse structural repair,” Nance stated.
“They awarded us $500,000 last year, and this brings our total award to $700,000, which greatly helps us with the cost of our structural repair.”
Nance then provided an update on the Commissions 2023 Roads Plan. This plan includes the utilization of funds from Rebuild Alabama and Federal Aid Exchange funds. Nance stated these monies were put in to work on local roads with additional help from the state.
“With our Rebuild Alabama/Federal Aid Exchange funds,” Nance stated “We were able to resurface 7.5 miles of county roads. Those were a portion of County Road 8, a portion of County Road 33 and a portion of County Road 67.”
Nance stated work on those roads is now complete. In the meantime, commissioners identified 20 miles of roads allocated to each district at five miles apiece. The commissioners are in the process of working those and have about 25% prepared for resurfacing. Now that the county is deep into resurfacing season, the work will continue for the next several months and will continue until it is done.
“We also had some help from ALDOT with Country Road 74,” Nance stated. “That is now complete, so that road, as you enter Jackson County, has now been resurfaced and is in great shape.”
Nance stated that patching is still going throughout the entire county, continuously. The county is still getting regular calls on areas that need patching, and Nance stated the county will continue to work on those issues until the work gets done.
“I would like to finish as always by saying thank you to our employees of Jackson County,” Nance stated. “They’re there every day to serve our citizens, and they work hard in the areas they’re responsible for. So, I’d like to thank them for their dedication to our county.”
Nance continued, “I’d also like to say thank you to our county commissioners for their work and their willingness to serve Jackson County. Thank you.”
by Martha Smith