Greene County Commission names roads for Lester Brown and George Hall

At its regular meeting on January 9, 2023, the Greene County Commission approved naming County Road 191, connecting Union and Jena as the “Lester Brown Memorial Highway” to honor the deceased District 1 commissioner.
The Commission also named County Road 133 for George Hall, a former Sheriff and community leader. They also adopted a resolution honoring former Probate Judge Earlean Isaac and agreed to hang a picture of her in the county courtroom.
The Commission tabled a request to pave Savior Way in District 2, near the old Eatman School, until residents sign a resolution deeding their right of way property to the County for continued maintenance of the road.
The Commission approved a request from the County Engineer to apply for a $250,000 grant to repair a bridge on County Road 220. They also approved the Rebuild Alabama Report on on-going road and bridge improvements, supported with state funds.
The Commission also approved advertising for equipment operators for the Greene County Highway Department and for hiring an Engineer with EIT (Engineer in Training Certification). This certification ensures that the engineer has graduated from a properly accredited engineering college, has taken the first proficiency test, and is planning to take the examination to become a PE (Professional Engineer) in the future based on more practical experiences in the field.
The Commission agreed to purchase a full-page ad ($600) in the Black History issue of the Greene County Democrat. Commissioners Corey Cockrell and Roshonda Summerville abstained from voting on this motion.
Mac Underwood, CFO presented a financial report for the county finances as of December 31, 2023, three months into the 2022-23 fiscal year. His report indicated $6.4 million in accounts in Citizens Trust Bank, $4 million in Merchants and Farmers bank, and $874,897 in certificates for bond sinking funds.
He clarified that only a small proportion of the over $10 million in county funds was available for discretionary spending. Most of the funding is designated for specific purposes. The report shows a balance of $890,844 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, however, some of these funds have already been committed to projects.
The financial report also shows claims paid for the month of December 2022 at $1,487.928.10, which includes $476,975 for payroll, $774,949 for accounts payable, and $236,404 for fiduciary expenses. Expenditures for the General Fund are in line with the budget.

ADECA holds meeting in Greene County to prepare for broadband

Diagram of Elements of a Broadband Network
from presentation at meeting
By: John Zippert, 
Co-Publisher
 
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) sponsored an informational and introductory meeting on their Broadband Technical Assistance Program on December 14, 2022, at the Robert H. Young Community Center.
ADECA is working with the Greene County Commission and Greene County Industrial Development Authority (GCIDA) and CTC Technology and Energy, a well-respected consulting firm, to bring information and initiate a planning process to ensure that broadband is brought to all parts of the county at an affordable price.
Joanne Hovis with CTC Technology explained, “There are substantial resources in the CARES Act, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure bills passed by Congress to extend broadband throughout the nation. $42 billion has already been allocated and $100 billion more will be coming over the next two years. People in Alabama, particularly in underserved rural areas like Greene County, need to be aware and vigilant that these resources are coming and are used wisely to provide broadband to all the people, especially those who have been neglected in the past.”
The CTC Consultants called broadband, ‘the electricity of the 21st century’ meaning that fiber optic connections to the residential level will be needed for work, recreation, education, medical care, home security and many other functions as time goes forward in this century. Digital equity in terms of access and affordability for broadband with greater speeds will be a necessary utility for the future.
The speed of broadband is a critical factor in its future development. Faster speeds will be needed to transmit more complex data, like x-rays for tele-medicine, presentations with pictures and interactive maps, and complex video games played by groups of people.
 Currently the FCC definition is 25 megabits per second down and 3 megabits per second up. Congress set a new standard of 100/20 megabits in the ARPA and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Alabama has set a 100/100 Mbps standard for future infrastructure funded by the state. Fiber optic connections will be needed for services provided by to meet these standards.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently issued a new map, available on its website, of currently available broadband connections. The ADECA consultants urged local officials to study these maps and make challenges where the maps are incorrect, so the state planning process will be grounded in true data.
The State of Alabama expects to receive more than a $100 million dollars, from Federal sources) over the next two years to work with local communities and Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) to provide a broadband network, down to the residential level. This will provide broadband services to all people, especially in underserved rural areas, like Greene County with large populations of African American and poor people.
Several representatives of ISP’s were represented at the meeting, including Charter Communications, A. T & T, Eagle Wireless, Meridian Wireless Manufacturing and Tallis Communications, a broadband equipment manufacturer. These ISP’s introduced themselves and said they were working with ADECA to bring broadband to Greene County. Conspicuously absent was any representation from Black Warrior Electric Cooperative. In several parts of the state of Alabama, electrical cooperatives have taken the lead in bringing broadband to their rural residents.
Another aspect of providing broadband services involves making them affordable to people of low and modest incomes. The CTC Consultants said there was an existing Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) which provides $30 per month subsidy to assist low-income residents to afford internet services. The program includes support for discounts to acquire devises like tablets, laptop computers and smart phones. 75% of the eligible households in Greene County have yet to enroll in this program. This statistic is also a measure of the current limitation of access to broadband in Greene County.
Unless replenished by increased Federal appropriations, the Affordable Connectivity Program will run out of funding in two years. This of course is right about the time that broadband access is projected for Greene County residents through other programs.
ADECA representatives explained that this was the first of several meetings to prepare for and plan for broadband access in Greene County.
Between this meeting and the next in the Spring of 2023, they recommended that the County officials review the FCC map of broadband access and report any errors and omissions, since these maps will be used to plan future services based on greatest need. Secondly, they suggested a continuing dialog with ISP’s to determine ways to collaborate to insure services to all areas of the county.
ADECA and the consultants also urged officials present to help encourage eligible people to enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program, to get the $30 per month subsidy on the cost of broadband. They also suggested that local officials and organizations study the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund for ways to help people get the devices needed to connect to the internet, including services that would lend people tablets and laptops to use to connect to the Internet.
Persons interested in learning more about the Broadband Technical Assistance Program, may contact: Mac Underwood, CFO, Greene County Commission, 205-372-3349; or Phillis Belcher, Executive Director GCIDA at 205-372-9769 org cida@uwa.edu.

Greene County Commission approves funds for roads, bridges, equipment and support for the ambulance service

At its regular monthly meeting on August 8, 2022, the Greene County Commission approved funding and solicitation of bids for several road and bridge projects as well as the purchase of needed equipment to support the work of the Highway Department.

Willie Branch, County Engineer brought many of these issues to the attention of the Commission at its work session on August 3 and many of these items were placed on the regular monthly meeting agenda for action.

At Engineer Branch’s suggestion, the Commission approved projects to be funded under the County Transportation Plan in conjunction with the ALDOT Rebuild Alabama Program. These projects include repairs on  CR 100, CR 174, CR 148, and a bridge on CR220.

The Commission approved advertising bids for renovation of the William M. Branch Courthouse including bathrooms, flooring and lighting in the courtroom, and some additional work on the walls in the courtroom.

In the work session, Engineer Branch reported mechanical difficulties with the garbage truck in picking up garbage on schedule. At the meeting the Commission approved advertising for bids on a truck for the Solid Waste Department. Branch also recommended giving all county solid waste customers a two-month credit on their garbage bills to cover the period of
delayed or missed services. The Commission approved this credit for all garbage customers.

The Commission also approved Branch’s request for additional equipment to have two crews for road repairs and grass cutting on the roadways. He was authorized to purchase two spreader boxes for gravel, four tractors, a single drum roller and a replacement for the current backhoe. Mac Underwood, CFO, said this equipment could be purchased with monies saved from earlier refinancing the County’s bond issues as well as funds in the Capital Improvements Account from bingo.

The Commissioners also approved a resolution to close the 2007 Bond Warranty Account and to close two CD accounts in Robertson Bank at maturity and deposit funds in the Gasoline Fund to be used for purchase of construction equipment.

The Commission voted to give the Greene County Emergency Medical Services, which administers the ambulance in the county $18,000 towards one month’s payroll expenses. The GEMS had requested a year’s worth of subsidy of its payroll and expenses, of $40,000 a month, prorated on a population basis from the County and four municipalities.

The Commission choose between two options of giving $54,000 for a quarter or $18.000 for a month and allowing the ambulance service to report back before allocating additional funds. Commissioners Brown and Smith voted for the quarterly option which was voted down by the other three Commissioners – Turner, Summerville, and Cockrell. Chair Turner voted with Brown and Smith to approve the one-month option. Cockrell said, “We need to use our funds for things the people really want like recreation and a water park, or they will all move away from Greene County and then you won’t need an ambulance service anyway.” Commissioners Brown and Smith said ambulance services were a necessary service for everyone.

The Commission approved a resolution to support settlement of an opioid lawsuit and agreed to sell ten acres of land on Choctaw Road to Mercy and Grace for an assisted living project.

The Commission received a financial report from CFO Mac Underwood and agreed to pay all bids and claims for July 2022.The Commission reappointed three members of the DHR Board and appointed Gavin Edgar to the E-911 Board from District 2. All other available board nominations were tabled.

County Commission grapples with contracts to assure payment for supplementary staff for Sheriff’s Department

In a meeting which featured approval of routine business matters, the Monday, September 13, 2021 regular County Commission meeting, spent considerable time discussing two agreements for payment of Sheriff’s Department staff.

These agreements for payment of School Resources Officers and supplemental staff for the Sheriff’s Department are for the coming fiscal year, beginning October 1, 2021, were negotiated by a committee including Commission Chair Rashonda Summerville, CFO, Macelroy Underwood and Atty. Mark Parnell, County Legal Counsel.

The agreement for School Resource Officers was negotiated with the Greene County Board of Education and requires direct payment to the County Commission for officers in the schools. The Board must deposit two months of salaries in advance with the Commission to pay these employees, who provide safety in the schools.

The agreement for supplementary staff for the Sheriff’s Department, which requires a three month’s advance payment to restore these employees to the Commission’s payroll, benefits plan and liability insurance coverage, generated significant discussion. The Sheriff employed a number of staff beyond his approved budget to handle law enforcement, jail and electronic bingo supervision.

The Sheriff was supposed to reimburse the County Commission for these additional expenditures during the current 2020-2021 fiscal year, out of funds he received from monthly bingo machine fees. The Sheriff did not pay all of these past staff expenses, dating back several fiscal years. In response the Commission ceased paying these additional staff and the Sheriff continued to pay them as contracted employees.

Mac Underwood said, “We wanted to bring all these staff back under the Commission’s payroll and insurance benefits for fairness and safety reasons. This is why we negotiated this payment arrangement. If the Sheriff does not put up the three months advance funds, then we will once again have to cut off these employees.”

District 1 Commissioner Lester Brown asked about the past monies the Sheriff owes the Commission for salaries paid to his staff but not reimbursed. “Did you give him a waiver on the past due monies? When will we receive these monies?” asked Brown.

Underwood said, “This agreement is for going forward starting October 1, with the new fiscal year. We will have a separate negotiation with the Sheriff on the past due funds owed. The Sheriff has paid some of these funds, there was a period in the Spring of 2020 when bingo was closed down, and we will have to calculate and agree on exactly what is owed back to the Commission and make a plan, with the agreement of the Sheriff for repayment.”

Commission Brown said, “I do not trust the Sheriff to pay this money back. I hope we get the three months advance payment before we put his staff back on the payroll.” Commissioner Brown and Tennyson Smith voted against approval of the budget supplement agreement. Commissioners Cockrell, Turner and Summerville voted in favor and the proposal was adopted.

The Commission approved a request for $26,652.50 for E-911 to purchase radio equipment for their new building from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation.

The Commission agreed to spend $23,000, with a matching contribution of $20,000 from ALDOT, for the HRRR project for guide rails on two bridges on County Roads 133 and 199. These funds will come from the Capital Improvement Fund, supported by bingo revenues. The Engineer was authorized to grade a quarter mile off County Road 11 for the State of Alabama. The Engineer was also authorized to provide technical assistance to the Board of Education and to advertise for two temporary positions.

In other business, the Greene County Commission:

• Approved advertising for a Real Property Clerk (Revenue), Appraisal Trainee (Apprisal), and a License Clerk (Probate Office).

• Ratified a contract with BCBS for 2021-2022 for health insurance for employees.

• Approved a proposal from the Alabama Department of Youth Services for Long Term Detention, at no cost to the county.

•Approved a contract with Digital Information Systems for $25,628 for IT services.

• Approved the schedule of county employees beginning October 4, 2021 and allowed employees to carry over unused vacation time from December 2021 to April 2022.

• Appointed Walter Beck to the Water Authority Board.

Macelroy Underwood, CFO reported that the county had paid $456,157 in claims for August and September, including an additional $76,012 in electronic claims paid. He reported $5,045,515 in deposit accounts in Citizens Trust Bank, $4,177,157 in Merchants and Farmers Bank, for a total of $9,222,673 in banks as of July 21,2021. He also reported $1,092,638 in bond sinking funds and $450,175 in the Bank of New York for payment of bonds.

Terminated employees in Sheriff Department continue to report to work, drive county vehicles

The Greene County Commission held its regular monthly meeting, Tuesday, October 13, 2020, since Monday, October, 12 was a federal holiday. Early in the commission’s meeting, Commissioner Lester Brown again stated his concerns regarding the employees from the Sheriff’s Department, who were layed-off on September 30, 2020 and continue to report to work and drive county vehicles. Reportedly, through various written and verbal communications, the Commission had informed Sheriff Jonathan Benison that his additional employees, supported by bingo funds, would be layed-off unless the Sheriff provided the necessary payroll payments at the beginning of each quarter of 2020-2021, as well as reimburse the county the back pay due for the same employees.
“We are allowing the sheriff to put the county in danger, as well as giving those employees false hope that they are still employed,” Brown stated.
At the commission’s work session held October 7, several commissioners raised those same concerns regarding the terminated employees continuing to report to work in the Sheriff’s Department. At Commissioner Chairman Allen Turner’s request for guidance, Attorney Hank Sanders, advised that the commission should consider taking appropriate steps of informing the county’s insurance agency that letters have been sent to the terminated employees regarding their last day of employment; and that letters have been sent informing these former employees that they must not drive county vehicles.
The commission approved a contract adjustment for CFO, Macaroy Underwood. Underwood’s contract provided for a monthly compensation of $7,000 beginning with the fiscal year of 2020-2021.
In other business, the commission acted on the following:
Received the financial report presented by Mrs. Brenda Burke and approved the payment of claims.
Approved a resolution for spreading and/or grading material for Greene County Volunteer Fire Departments.
Approved the 2020-2021 bid tabulations for treated timber, metal pipe, plastic pipe, petroleum products and aggregates.
Approved roofing repair from Holland Roofing.
Approved contracts for Digital Information System; Delta Computer Systems, Inc.; Alabama Computer Systems, Inc.
Approved travel for employees.

County Commission approves budget for 2019-2020, with contingency; adopts resolution supporting Streetscape Project

The Greene County Commission met in a called session on Wednesday, September 25, 2019 to consider action on the county’s budget for fiscal year 2019-2020, as well as action on the Streetscape Project, a collaborative with the City of Eutaw and the Greene County Industrial Development Authority.
The commission approved the proposed budget with a contingency. The basic General Fund portion of the budget totals expenses in the amount of $2,695,758.78 and revenue in the amount of $2,472,190.96. The General Fund budget will be balanced with resources from carry-overs from previous year/s. Approximately $223,567.82 will be taken from the fund balance, added to revenue to balance the budget.
Sheriff Jonathan Benison originally requested $2,062,875.20. The county’s expected resources in the general fund would only support $1,251,489.53 for the sheriff and jail, unless the sheriff provided the additional resources, which totaled $811,385.67.
The county’s CFO, Paula Bird, explained that the contingency budget approved does total an additional $811,385.67 in revenue and expenditure for the Sheriff’s Department and the jail, however, the contingency resources must be provided by the Sheriff’s bingo income and will be allocated toward his department’s budget expenditures.
The Commissioners approving the General Fund budget with the contingency budget included Tennyson Smith, Lester Brown and Allen Turner, Jr. Commissioners Corey Cockrell and Roshanda Summerville voted against the same.
CFO Bird stated that the contingency fund will be considered in the financial report as other sources and uses. She explained that the sheriff will be billed on a monthly basis for a portion of the contingency fund based on the percent of year completed.

The county’s General Fund Departmental Budget for expenditures, without the contingency component, is itemized as follows: Commission – $488,448.50; Court – $15,670; Youth Services – $1,800; Probate Judge – $254,845.36; Revenue Commissioner – $203,282.14; Election – $86,468.25; Board of Registrars – $65,964; Maintenance – $193,143.40; Sheriff – $686,324.83; Jail – $565,164.70; EMA/Homeland Security – $48,943.10; Coroner – $31,384.50; E911 – $30,000; Library – $20,320; Agency BOE – $4,000.
The county’s total expected revenue for the fiscal year is $7,583,539.39. The revenue sources include the General Fund – $2,472,190.96; Gasoline Fund – $2,699,817; Road & Bridge – $650,000; Highway & Traffic -$36,300; Capitol Improvement – $195,000; RRR Gas Tax – $882,830; Appraisal – $283,661.43; Solid Waste – $343,500; Sr. Citizen Fund – $15,960; Indigent Fund – $3,200; Motor Vehicle Training – $360; Motor Vehicle Tech – $720; The approved contingency fund is not included in this figure.
CFO Bird stated that the Commission allocates approximately 51% of the county’s general fund revenue to the Sheriff Department and the jail. “This is a practice, a tradition only, which occurs in most comparable counties in Alabama,” she noted. “In the past, the Commission has worked with me to come up with an operating budget that allows the county to have a surplus fund balance,” Bird said.

Streetscape Project

The County Commission approved a resolution supporting the Streetscape Project in conjunction with the City of Eutaw and the Greene County Industrial Development Authority, committing $70,000 to the project, which is in addition to the $10,000 previously paid by the county for engineering services on a related project. The Streetscape Project, provided with federal funds from the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), administrated through the State of Alabama, will address the outer sidewalks around the Courthouse Square and street light in Eutaw. The estimated federal funds for the project are $640,000; estimated city funds, including the collaborative partners, are $160,000, with basic project cost at $800,000, which does not include engineering costs. The three collaborating agencies are paying the engineering costs as part of the local matching requirement. According to the contractual agreement with the state, this is also a cost reimbursement program and no federal funds will be provided to the city prior to accomplishment of the work for which it is requested.

Retiring Revenue Commissioner, Goree, presents final report to County Commission

The Greene County Commission met in regular session Monday, June 11, 2018 and approved the year-end report from outgoing Revenue Commissioner, Brenda Goree. Goree stated that the document pointed out some minor errors in her operations and appropriate adjustments would be made. She also noted that this would be her last year-end report to the commission, since she is leaving office by the end of June. Barbara McShan will assume the position on July 1, serving the remainder of Goree’s term, which expires in 2020. Goree requested her retirement in 2017 and it will go into effect on June 30.
In other business the commission acted on the following:
*Approved a contract with Alabama Department of Transportation for preliminary engineering for bridge replacement on County Road 69 over McConnico Creek, with ALDOT paying 80% and the county paying 20% of the cost.
* Approved ABC License for Green Track Side Plaza (Chevron Service Station).
* Approved the placement of two high school interns for the summer. Commissioner Cory Cockrell proposed this arrangement at the commission’s work session, wherein he will pay the students through Next Level Leaders non-profit organization.
* Approved hiring one part-time bus driver for the Eutaw Nutrition Site.
* Approved Blue Cross Blue Shield contract for 2018-2019.
* Approved request from Society of Folk Arts & Culture for access to the courthouse restrooms for the 2018 Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.
* Approved resolution to add lodging tax collection to services of RDS, which is the Revenue Discover System that collects various taxes for the county, including sales and use, and beer and tobacco taxes.
*Approved the clean-up and re-purposing of the Montgomery Recreational Center in the Knoxville Community.
*Approved staff travel to various workshops and training.
*Approved payment of claims and budget amendments presented by the county’s CFO, Paula Bird.
Bank balances as of May 18, 2018, reported by Ms. Bird included the following: Citizen Trust Bank – $2,787,828.27; Merchant & Farmers Bank – $2,616,703.76; Bank of New York – $918,088.04; CD Bond Sinking Fund – $805,753.35

County will sell surplus land to WestRock; addresses redistricting in Greene County

IMG_2019.JPG

Greene County Commission shown with two new vehicles for the County Highway Department. The vehicles are two 2018 F150 Crew Cabs 4×4 at purchase price of $28,650 each. Shown L to R: Commissioners Michael Williams, Tennyson Smith, Allen Turner, Jr.,and Lester Brown; County Engineer Willie Branch and Assistant Engineer John Ensley.

At its regular meeting held Jan. 8, 2018, the Greene County Commission agreed to sell a portion of surplus land to WestRock box plant in Eutaw. The commission is asking $30.000 for approximately 2.7 acres of land adjacent to the current WestRock property on Finches Ferry Road in Eutaw.
In an original plan, the County Commission deeded that parcel of land to the Greene County Industrial Board with the understanding that the IDA would lease the property to West Rock. Subsequently, West Rock determined that it was interested in purchasing same property to accommodate its expansion plans. The county’s plan to sell the property to West Rock will proceed once the IDA transfers the deed back to the county.
The commission voted to approve the County Registrars duties regarding the state’s redistricting and voter reassignment process for areas and voters affected by the new state legislative district lines. District lines are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the United States Census. The Alabama State Legislature is responsible for drawing both congressional and state legislative district lines.
On May 24, 2012, the Republican-controlled legislature approved state legislative redistricting maps. Maps for both chambers were passed during a special session. It next went to Gov. Robert Bentley (R) for his signature, then to the U.S. Department of Justice for preclearance. The Justice Department cleared the state legislative maps on October 5, 2012. Various statewide organizations challenged the state’s redistricting lines up to the U.S. Supreme Court, but were unsuccessful.
According to the current legislative map, Greene County will fall in two State House Districts: D 71, Northwestern part of the county, (Rep. Artis McCampbell) and D 72, all other areas of the county (Rep. Ralph Howard). Greene County falls in only one State Senate District, D 24 (Senator Bobby Singleton).
Alabama’s House of Representatives is made up of 105 districts; Alabama’s State Senate is made up of 35 districts.
In other business the commission approved the following:
* Filling two employee positions in the Highway Department
* Accepting the resignation of one equipment operator and authorizing advertising to fill the position of Equipment operator.
* Travel request for employees as specified.
The Commission approved the various Committee Chair appointments as follows:
* Finance and Public Safety, Commissioner Tennyson Smith.
* Public Works and Health, Commissioner Michael Williams.
* Education and Social Concerns, Commissioner Lester Brown.
* Jobs and Industries, Commissioner Allen Turner, Jr.
* Personnel, Commissioner Corey Cockrell.
CFO, Paula Bird provided the following financial summaries as of December 17, 2017.
Total funds in Citizen Trust Bank was $2,476,161.54; total funds in Merchants & Farmers Bank was $1,961,067.02. Bond investments totaled $800,989.79, Bank of New holds $358,718.17