Jackson County Commission Chairman Bill Nance recently sat down with The Clarion to update readers on the county. First, Nance welcomed two new commissioners who were recently elected to office: Commissioner Chris Gulley for District I and Commissioner Paul Kennamer for District II.
“They have hit the ground running,” Nance stated. “There has been a lot on their plate this first month, but they have been on the job, and they’re doing a great job. I look forward to working with them as they take their seats on the Commission along with District III Commissioner A.J. Buckner and District IV Commissioner Kevin McBride as we all work together to serve the citizens of Jackson County.”
Nance also stated that Gulley and Kennamer were recently able to attend their first training session in Montgomery. According to Nance, all new commissioners are required to complete 50 hours of training over five sessions. Gulley and Kennamer also attended the Association of County Commissioners of Alabama conference on the legislative agenda for county commissioners.
Nance later spoke about the improvements planned for the historic courthouse in downtown Scottsboro. Currently, the county is in the process of having a bid package on the street with a specification and architectural design for an upgrade or replacement of the courthouse’s HVAC system.
“About three years ago, the county put in a part of a new HVAC system. It covered about 1/3 of the courthouse, so we’ve been living with about 2/3 of the courthouse that has been serviced by an old, outdated, hard-to-repair, costly HVAC system,” Nance stated. “We have allocated some of our ARPA funding to upgrade the system. It will certainly do a great deal better handling air circulation in the courthouse. One feature will reduce or kill pathogens in the air so we are, from an HVAC standpoint, providing a much safer system for our citizens and employees.”
The bid opening for this job will take place on the 22nd of December.
The IT in the courthouse is also being addressed, as the current system is out-dated, antiquated and obsolete.
“That is going to help us have better outreach to the citizens of the county and allow us to offer our citizens the opportunity to do their business with the county by the services in the courthouse, by telephone or by IT and the internet,” Nance stated. “We’re looking forward to that.”
The bid openings for this will also take place on December 22nd.
The Commission recently approved establishing a contract with JRM+H, an architectural design firm. Nance stated they will be working with the Commission to do an architectural design and build a specification package and bid package for an upgrade of the Liberty Lane building. The firm will also be working with the Commission from the time they start the design until a contractor is selected. JRM+H will also be working with the Commission as they monitor the contractor’s work.
“Upgrading that facility and doing a redesign will give us the opportunity to locate some of the critical services we provide to citizens of the county in that location,” Nance stated. “Rather than the citizens having to come downtown to the courthouse to do that work, whether it’s the Probate Judge’s office or our Revenue Commission, we believe it’s going to be easier access, and it’s going to be more convenient if we choose to more those services there.”
Another contract the Commission signed was for design. Again, specification development and development of a bid package for courthouse structural repair and interior renovations.
“We have known for a while that we have some structural issues with the courthouse,” Nance stated. “Certainly, the courthouse is not unsafe, but it is the kind of structural issue that we need to start doing some repair to.”
Nance also stated that after the report the Commission received in 2019, detailing what was found and what needed to be done to fix the problems, he requested the same firm to come in 2021 to review the first package.
“I want to say thank you to Senator Steve Livingston,” Nance stated. “ He worked with the State Legislature this past year to identify $500,000 that will help us in this repair process. We will also use some advanced American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to supplement that for the work on the courthouse.”
The Commission also received the final notice from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) that the $500,000 the State set aside for the courthouse was there and available to the county, thanks to Senator Livingston and everything he has done to improve the structural integrity of the courthouse.
Another big step the Commission has taken is addressing the county’s clean, drinking water issue. According to Nance, at Governor Kay Ivey’s request, the State Legislature recently allocated a portion of their ARPA funds for use in clean drinking water and wastewater improvements across the state.
Nance stated, “When we found out the Legislature had identified funds for this, the Commission along with Senator Livingston hosted a meeting with our county water authorities and municipal water authorities. In those discussions, the recommendation made was each of them identify water activity, whether it’s drinking water, or wastewater, and submit applications to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) for grants.”
According to Nance, several of the applications have been approved, with each of these grants requiring matching funds from either the municipality, the water authority or the county. The Commission has allocated $2million of their ARPA funds for matching to assist water authorities with funding in addition to the ADEM grants.
Nance also stated the recent Wannville water project is now complete, with residents deciding whether or not to hook up to the water service now available to them. Another town, Pisgah, has had their application approved by ADEM for $1.35million. The Commission has allocated $200,000 to assist with matching funds to allow for the upgrading of Pisgah’s water system.
The Commission is also working with the Jackson/DeKalb Water Authority, which has been notified by ADEM of the possibility of a $3.6million grant previously applied for that would provide a clarifier to improve the quality of water across a large area for the citizens on Sand Mountain.
“If finally approved, this will affect 3,500 Jackson County homes on the mountain,” Nance stated. “We were certainly very willing to support that, so at the meeting on the 28th of November, we also approved $200,000 to support matching funds for that grant. We’re looking forward and hoping we get a final approval, but we have notified folks that we will help with matching funds there.”
Nance stated the county has several more grants at ADEM and about $1.2million allocated to assist with matching.
The Commission is currently in the process of finalizing their local roads program for 2023. After approving the plan for the use of the county’s Rebuild Alabama funds and their Federal Aid Exchange funds, the county now has about $1.3million to allocate to roads. Three roads have been selected for a total of 7.5 miles of preservation and/or paving: County Road 33 from State Road 72 to the railroad tracks in Hollywood; County Road 8 for 3.7 miles from State Road 35 to the top of the mountain; County Road 67 for 2.97 miles from Lakeshore Drive to the Marshall County line.
“Again,” stated Nance, “we get this with the help of Rebuild Alabama funds and our Federal Aid Exchange funds. Rebuild Alabama is a great supplement to what we get or have in funds to be able to service our county roads. We really appreciate that. Between these funds and the general fund money we will put into our local roads, we’re hoping to get anywhere between 27 and 30 miles of roads worked on in 2023.”
Nance stated the total of funds would total about $1.3million once again. Meanwhile, the commissioners are also in the process of running up and down county roads to identify 20 miles of local roads that will be a part of their 2023 plan.
“I’d like to give a shout-out to the work that being done in our Solid Waste Department,” stated Nance. “That is, really focused on greater effect in use and efficiency in the use of the funds we have. Our new director, Mr. Randy Grider, when he came on-board, took a hard look at the department from how they’re managing funds, how they’re managing the purchase orders and started an initiative to look at how they could be more efficient with the operations of the Solid Waste Department.”
According to Nance, Grider has implemented some new initiatives that ensure all purchased made by the department are tracked, maintenance actions on every vehicle are tracked, an inventory control system has been instituted, and he has also worked with all the vendors that supply the cans and has negotiated lower prices for private and commercial cans at the same quality. The county has also begun focusing on upgrading their fleet of trucks and is currently in the process of upgrading or replacing the trucks purchased several years ago to serve the county with garbage pickup.
“Bottom line here is what the Solid Waste Department is doing,” stated Nance. “Randy Grider is reducing the cost of operations, and we’re already seeing the benefit of that.”
The Commission was recently notified by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that they are now going to begin providing the county with about $47,000 per year.
“The basis of this is Forever Wild Land Trust has about 29,181 acres of land in Jackson County that has not been taxed, so we don’t get revenue for that land,” Nance stated. “This now provides us nearly $47,000 that will go into our General Fund. That’s a big help.”
In closing, Nance stated, “Lastly, I would like to say, as always, great thanks to our commissioners for the work they are doing for the citizens of our county and to our county employees. As always. They’re up every day, they’re out there doing work. Whether it’s in the courthouse or with our COA or folks that are out riding our garbage service or working on our roads, working really hard. They’re doing a great job for us and they’re truly dedicated to the citizens of our county. On behalf of each of them, we would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy new year for Jackson County citizens. Thank you very much.”
by Martha Smith