Eutaw City Council approves water leak insurance; re-enacts mask mandate

Eutaw Mayor Latasha Johnson (center) and members of the Eutaw City Council show the hand sanitizer available for distribution to residents
Officer Andrew Clements and
Police Chief Tommy Johnson

At its regular meeting on August 10, 2021, the Eutaw City Council approved a proposal from SERVLine to add an insurance of up to $500 for water leakages on the customer side of the meter. Eutaw water customers will be able to opt-out of this $1.75 a month charge on their water bills, if they do not want the coverage.

This insurance, which costs $1.75 per month ($21 per year), will be added to customer’s water bills, provides up to $500 if a leak develops on the customer’s side of the water meter, which is paid to cover the high water bills for water-loss in a leak. Some of the high utility bills incurred in the city have come from undiscovered and prolonged leaks. 

The payment is subject to a deductible, based on the average water bill for the past twelve months. This means even if you have a water leak covered by the insurance, you will still have to pay your basic monthly bill and the insurance will help pay for the extra water used that was caused by the leak.

SERLine will send a letter to all City of Eutaw water customers informing them of the insurance program before the $1.75 charge is added to all of the water bills. Customers may opt-out of the insurance program, that is to say you must inform the City’s Water Department that you do not want to be covered by the insurance, during the initial three months of the coverage period and at specific designated times during the year.

Many City Council members expressed concerns that customers would not understand the additional $1.75 monthly insurance charge on their bills or that they can opt-out of the program if they do not want the coverage. Mayor Johnson assured the Council that all water customers would be informed of this insurance coverage and monthly charge by letter from the company and by an advisory printed on their bills. 

The Council then voted unanimously for instituting this SERVLine water leak insurance program. This program will start soon, so look for your notice in the mail and your opportunity to opt-out, if you do not wish to pay for this additional insurance coverage.

The Eutaw City Council agreed to re-impose a mask mandate for the City of Eutaw requiring citizens to wear masks inside city businesses and in places where there are large numbers of people gathered together inside or outside. The city adopted this mandate until its first regular meeting on September 14, 2021. 

The Council may extend the mask mandate at that point depending on the conditions of community spread of the coronavirus, especially the more contagious Delta variant, which is spreading throughout the state, primarily to unvaccinated people. The Mayor and Council urged all adults and children above the age of 12 to be vaccinated. Vaccination appointments may be made at the Greene County Health System, Mills Pharmacy and the Alabama Department of Public Health. 

The mayor reported that the City of Eutaw had received a pallet of hand sanitizer, to be distributed to Greene County agencies, businesses and residents. The Black Belt Community Foundation informed the city of the availability of these free resources to combat the coronavirus pandemic and the city staff acted to secure these resources.

The mayor said a CPA in Tuscaloosa is preparing audits for the fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020, which will enable the city to seek grants and loans to acquire new equipment, such as a knuckle-boom truck to pick up 

fallen trees and other trash on the side of the streets. The mayor said she has spoken with Waste Management, who said they were having difficulties in picking up garbage in the city on schedule because of a lack of personnel. The company improved garbage collections for several weeks but has fallen behind schedule again.

In other actions, the Eutaw City Council: 

• Approved travel for Linda Spencer, Court Clerk and Antonio Pearson, Magistrate, to attend training.

• Approved Corey Martin, Water Operator to attend training in Ozark, Alabama.

 

• Approved amending the Personnel Handbook to allow part-time employees to apply for health insurance, after they complete the 90-day probationary period.

• Police Chief Tommy Johnson reported that Andrew Clements, a new officer had complete training at the Police Academy and was joining the city’s police force. He also announced that he was holding another coffee and donuts session at Branch Heights, on Thursday August 12, to talk with people about improving the policing of Eutaw.

• Approved payment of outstanding bills.

Eutaw City Council approves matching requirements for Airport and National Guard Armory improvement grants; tables action on water leak insurance

During the past week, the Eutaw City Council held two meetings, a Special Called Meeting on Thursday July 22 and its regular meeting on the fourth Tuesday, July 27 at 5:00 PM. 

The special meeting was called to consider matching support for two grants to assist the city in improving the airport and rehabilitating the National Guard Armory Building. 

The Council approved $125,000 match for a $600,000 state and Federal grant to repair and light the runways at the Eutaw Airport which has not been operation for a number of years. This grant will enable the Eutaw Airport Authority, a board operating under the auspices of the City of Eutaw to repair and improve the airport facilities and make them operational again.

Danny Cooper, representing the Airport Authority said, “This grant will help us restore a $5million dollar and facility, enable small planes to fly in and out of Eutaw and help to restore the airport as a self-supporting facility from fees for parking and fueling planes.” The Council approved a resolution for the matching fund allocation to come from the existing funds in the airport account, supplemented with equal support from the Special Street Fund (bingo) and the Capital Improvement Fund.

At the Special Meeting, the Eutaw City Council approved use of the National Guard Armory building as a matching for a USDA RISE (Rural Innovation for a Strong Economy) grant for up to $2 million in funding to rehabilitate the National Guard Armory Building for use as a job training center and business development incubator. The Greene County Industrial Development Authority, together with Rural Business and Training Center, a regional group based in Demopolis, are developing this grant, which must be submitted by August 2nd.

At the regular meeting on Tuesday, most of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of a water leak insurance, provided by SERVLINE, a company affiliated with the National Rural Water Association. Corey Martin, Water Department Operator, presented the program to the Eutaw City Council. 

For a Monthly charge of $1.75 per month on each water bill, the company would provide a one-time annual insurance payment, up to $500, to cover repair and payment of expanded water bills incurred because of the leak on the customer side of the meter.

Martin explained that due to old pipes and connections, many Eutaw customers have experienced water leaks which boost their water bills to high amounts, that they often cannot pay without a payment plan. This insurance would cover these cases and help people to pay high water bills caused by leaks and plumbing failures.

Martin further explained that the company would send a notice to all city water customers, informing them of the $1.75 a month ($21/yearly) insurance charge and offering them the chance to ‘opt-out’ of this service and not be charged for the insurance. Council members tabled this resolution because they felt the water customers needed to be more informed and consulted about the increase in water costs to cover this new insurance policy.

 

The Council set a working meeting with City Engineer Babb for Tuesday, August 3, 2021 at 2:00 PM at City Hall to discuss changes to city ordinances to be incompliance with the 2015 International Building Code, standards for small cities. Babb said he would also report on progress with GPS mapping of all city utilities, which is needed to plan future growth of the city.

In other actions, The Eutaw City Council:

• Approved travel for City Attorney, Zane Willingham and City Judge Joshua Swords to attend League of Municipalities Law Conference in October.

• Approved rental of a room for Breia’s Nails at the Robert H. Young Community Center.

• Approved monthly contract for $500/moth for Total Care Service to cut grass and maintain city right of ways in the area around Interstate Exit 40,

where Love’s Truckstop is located.  

• Approved a proposal by the Eutaw Chamber of Commerce to place signage on buildings in the downtown Eutaw area.

• Approved use of storage space at a shed near the National Guard Armory for the Black Belt Folk Roots Festival to house some of its materials and files.

• Agreed to pay the bills present for the month of July.

• Agreed to give city employees, the state holiday on July 30 – Confederate Memorial Day- but renaming it John Lewis Memorial Holiday, as the Greene County Commission has done.

• Police Chief Tommy Johnson announced that two of his officers, Kendrick Howell and Robert Jeter, had completed training as investigators. He also introduced Jonquesha Daniels, a cadet who is attending the Police Academy,

with the intention of joining the Eutaw Police Force upon graduation.

Eutaw City Council deals with water, budget and street repairs

At its regular meeting on February 23, 2021, the Eutaw City Council continued grappling with problems of the water system, street repairs and assembling a budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which began October 1, 2020.
The Council heard from Corey Martin, the full time Water System Operator, recently hired to help supervise and correct the physical and billing problems of the Eutaw city water system. Martin reported that for the four months, October 2020 to January 2021, the city was pumping 30 million gallons of water a month but only billing for thirty per cent of this amount. There was a 70% loss to leaks, incorrect billing, meters not working properly and not reporting properly to the computer billing system and pother problems.
Martin stated his job was to work together with Terry Tyson, an engineering consultant retained by the City to audit the water meters, and the Water Department staff to correct leaks, faulty water meters, missing water meters, water meters that are not properly tied into the computerized billing system. Martin said, “We have 1,400 water customers and we will visit every meter, correct the problems and should have the system working correctly in two to three months.”
Martin as a certified water operator will also be able to do monthly sampling for testing the city’s water for quality and environmental contamination required by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). This will avoid compliance issues that Eutaw has experienced recently. Water customers received a letter concerning compliance with testing requirements this past summer, which has now been corrected.
Attorney Ralph Liverman, financial consultant to the City Council presented members with his third draft budget for the City, which details projected revenues and expenses for six city funds including: The General Fund, Water and Sewer Fund, 7-Cent Gas Tax Fund, 4-Cent Gas Tax Fund, Special Street Fund, and a Capital Improvements Fund, which account for $3.5 million a year. The Council agreed to hold a Work Session on March 3rd to review and discuss this budget in more detail. It should be noted that Mayor Latasha Johnson made a campaign promise to develop a budget for the City, which did not have one for many years. Mayor Johnson reported on the Streetscape grant (TAPNU-TAI) for the City from the Alabama Department of Transportation. The grant provides $640,000 in Federal funds and $160,000 in local matching, plus local responsibility for engineering cost, for repairs to the sidewalks, railings, lighting and landscaping of the outside of the Thomas Gilmore Square surrounding the historic old Courthouse in downtown Eutaw. There is a separate project for repairing the inside sidewalk of the Square.
The City of Eutaw, Greene County Commission and the Greene County Industrial Development Authority agreed to share in providing the $240,000 in matching funds and engineering for this project. The project has been delayed by the State Historical Commission review which questioned if the project would conform to the city’s designation under the National Historic Register. The project engineer has resolved the issue with the Historical Commission and the project can go forward, however, the city will be required to update its registration with the National Historic Registry, which may cost an additional $20 to $30,000 to complete. The Council voted to approve the expenditure of funds to update the National Historic Registry.
The Council approved the rental agreements for the CFRD and Liberty Tax for rental of space in the Robert H. Young Community Center, formerly the Carver Middle School. The Council also approved re-opening the Fitness Center in the Robert H. Young Community Center for a $20 a month membership fee and compliance with COVID-19 health guidelines and an insurance liability waiver by persons wishing to use the athletic equipment. The equipment was donated by Auburn Extension Services in past years to improve the health and fitness of community residents. A staff person was recently employed to take care of the facility who will also help to monitor the Fitness Center.
Tammy Holley of West Alabama Works, a workforce development agency, made a presentation of some of the services her agency offers and requested a longer session with the council to fully explain the services of her agency. The Council agreed to her request at a future work session, to be scheduled.
In other business, the Eutaw City Council:
• Approved a resolution to provide the Mayor and Mayor Pro Temp access to all the city’s email accounts and passwords to handle business in the absence of city employees.
• Approved the solicitation of bids to resurface the City’s portion of the Lower Gainesville Road and Choctaw Road.
• Heard concerns from Council member Valerie Watkins for the installation of speed bumps on Roebuck Avenue to protect children in the area.
• Received a report from Mayor Johnson that the Police Department has set up a sub-station in King Village and is looking for female officers to augment its staff of 9 fulltime and 2 part-time officers overall.

Larry Coleman is candidate for Eutaw Council seat, District 4

I, Larry Coleman, am a candidate for Eutaw City Council, District 4. While I was growing up as a child in Greene County, I was schooled on many lifelong lessons. My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Willie and Bertha Coleman, taught me the values of hard work, education and faith in God. After graduating for Paramount High school, I made Detroit, MI my home for many years and worked for Chrysler Motor Company for six years and Valassis Printing Company for over eighteen years. Upon returning to my hometown, I was employed with Johnson Controls for over seventeen years. 
Until this day, my faith and my upbringing continue to guide my thinking and service. I am a member of Mt. Zion, Mt. Hebron Baptist Church where I serve in several capacities including Superintendent of Sunday School and a member of the Deacon Board, Usher Board, and Finance Committee.
Now that I have returned home, my wife, Margaret Coleman, and I enjoy living in Eutaw. After taking an inventory of many needed improvements in the city of Eutaw, I feel compelled to take an active role in civic involvement to bring about positive changes. Serving as city councilman is not an easy task, but I will pledge my efforts, time, and cooperation and will work relentlessly to fulfill the responsibilities of this position. In addition to working to fulfill the duties of District 4 Councilman, I will be an advocate for the citizens of District 4 as well as the entire city. Furthermore, I want to help bring about changes that will strengthen the connection among city leaders.
My goal is not to seek personal accomplishments or recognition. Instead, my energies will be exerted to help the City of  Eutaw. It is not about us; it is about the city.

Joe L. Powell seeks Eutaw Mayoral seat

I, Joe L. Powell, humbly announce my candidacy for Mayor of Eutaw. I have served on the Eutaw City Council for 16 years and currently serving as Chairman of the Finance Committee. During these 16 years, I have also served on several committees for the Alabama League of Municipalities and currently serving on the Committee of State & Federal Legislation and Transportation, Public Safety and Communication.
I have served 16 years as a proven leader with sound decisions and if I am elected as your Mayor, I will serve you to the best of my ability with a strong leadership for all citizens. My plans for the city are: to establish an Advisory Council to the Mayor and Council from all segments of the city, a voice for all the citizens; to continue to develop Exit 40 with more infrastructures; create more jobs for our citizens; hire more Police Officers to patrol our city; hire more city workers for each department; continue to provide affordable housing for all citizens and revitalize downtown Eutaw.
I have completed the League’s Basic and Advanced Certified Municipal Official (CMO) programs and am currently working on my CMO Emeritus designation, which requires a minimum of 120 credit hours of continuing formal training in municipal government.
Through these programs, I have received formal classroom training in subjects such as council meeting procedures; parliamentary procedures; the Open Meeting Law; public records; ordinance drafting; conflict of interest; the State Ethics Law; duties of the mayor and council; tort liability; the competitive bid law; zoning and planning; annexation; municipal regulatory powers; municipal revenues and expenditures; personnel actions; and leadership development.
I was born in Greene County, Eutaw, AL, graduated from Eutaw High School in 1979, attended Stillman College and earned a BA Degree in (History) Social Sciences and Auburn University with 18 semester hours in Adult Education. I am currently employed with the Shelton State Community College as a GED Instructor.
I am a member of the New Peace Missionary Baptist in Eutaw, where I serve as Chairman of the Deacon Board, member of the Choir and Church Clerk. I am married to Elizabeth Benison Powell, we have four children: Sharnika, Al, Jocelyn and Jaleel and two grandsons, Darius and Jamari. I am currently a member of the following Local Organization: The Greene County Children’s Policy Council, Alabama New South Coalition, Eutaw Airport Authority Board, Greene County Health Advisors, AEA, and Secretary of the Greene County District Association.
I am asking that you go to the polls on August 25, 2020 and cast your vote for Joe Powell, Mayor of Eutaw, and a man with Leadership for All Citizens.

Eutaw Mayor and Council reach agreement to pay bills; water issues remain unfinished

The Eutaw City Council met twice in the past two weeks on January 10 and January 14, to resolve differences, pay pressing bills and deal with problems with the City’s water system.
The City Council members and Mayor Steele were at an impasse at the Friday, January 10th special called meeting to find a way to pay critical outstanding bills before vendors, like Alabama Power Company, A.T. &T, water chemical companies, and other essential providers, cut off supplies and services.
Council members: Latasha Johnson, Sheila Smith, LaJeffrey Carpenter and Joe Lee Powell were concerned about authorizing the use of bingo funds to pay bills until they received assurance from Mayor Steele that the roads in King Village would be resurfaced; other policies passed by the Council, such as the “no acceptance of cash as payment for city services” were implemented; and the Water Department operations and billing were corrected.
Mayor Steele said the special street repair funds were for Branch Heights and that the streets in King Village “were not in as bad a shape as other streets in the City and did not need repair at this time.”
No agreement or consensus was reached and the January 10 meeting was adjourned without progress. The Mayor and the Council agreed to a work session on January 14 with technical support from Ralph Banks, President of Merchants and Farmers Bank and a former city council member, to try to work toward a compromise.
The January 14 meeting included a work session and a regular meeting. The Mayor and Council adopted a resolution indicating that up to $300,000 in bingo funds could be withdrawn from the dedicated account for street repairs to be transferred to the General Fund for the payment of pressing outstanding bills, provided that the City would proceed to advertise and take bids for resurfacing the streets and roads in King Village, to be paid for with gasoline tax fund accounts.
The City established a special street repair fund, with funds from bingo, provided through the Sheriff’s Department for street repairs in Branch Heights and King Village. The City then used gasoline tax funds to resurface the roads in Branch Heights, which is a permissible and legal use of gas tax funds.
The Mayor then received approval from the City Council to transfer funds from the special street repair fund to the General Fund to pay bills.
The resolution passed in the January 14th meeting made a similar budgetary adjustment to pay critical bills and still move forward with paving the roads in King Village. The Mayor and several council members indicated that they had discussed these steps with Sheriff Joe Benison and he was supportive.
The Council also asked about problems with operations and billing in the Water Department. The Mayor insisted that all problems with digital water meters had been resolved and that the billing problems were being corrected. There was a disagreement over the extent of revenue shortfall from the Water Department. The Mayor said the shortfall was in the range of $40,000 for the past year while council members set the shortfall at significantly higher – above $300,000 by their estimates.
The Council agreed to have a working session on February 18 with Kathy Horne from the Alabama Rural Water Association to discuss improvements to the water system.
Mayor Steele said he was “reluctant to turn the water system over to someone outside the city”. Council members pointed out that there suggestions and solutions were never implemented by the Mayor.
Many in the audience said they received the same water bills each month even though their usage was different at different times of the year. Ralph Banks pointed out that the garbage charge on the monthly water bills was $15 but that Waste Management was charging the city $17 a month for each garbage bin they were servicing. “The City should not continue to subsidize garbage collection for its residents,” said Banks.
In other actions, the City Council:
• tabled action to purchase new computers for the Water Department, until after the meeting with Kathy Horne in February;
• approved a contract for Alabama Power to store power poles at the parking lot of the National Guard Armory, for which it will receive $1,000 a month compensation.
• approved a Severe Weather Preparedness Sales Tax holiday for February 21-23, 2020.

Eutaw City Council approves Job Fair for Love’s Truck Stop at Carver Center, Oct. 16, 17 and 18

At its regular meeting on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, the Eutaw City Council approved a ‘Job Fair’ for Love’s Truck Stop to be held at the Community Center, in the old Carver High School, on October 16,17, and 18.
Love’s is planning to open its Truck Stop and Travel Center on Thursday, October 24, 2019, at the Interstate 40 exit on Highway 20/59. Mayor Steele said the company is still looking for employees for the restaurant and tire shop. The facility will include three eating places: Hardees, Chester’s Chicken and Godfather’s Pizza.
Love’s plans to operate 24/7 and needs 60 to 70 full and part time workers to operate. Representatives of Love’s will be present next week to receive resumes and hold interviews with people needing a job.
The Eutaw City Council approved a proclamation honoring Head Start Awareness Month and the local program sponsor Community Service Programs of West Alabama.
The Council tabled a number of issues and placed them on the agenda for its October 15 Work Session. These items included: pay adjustments for city employees, a promissory note with the Greene County IDA for funds loaned for several projects, and a budget for the coming fiscal year. Councilman Joe Lee Powell said the City Council Finance Committee would meet after the Working Session on October 15 to discuss these issues.

The Council also postponed action on demolishing a dilapidated house at 116 Park Street until City Attorney Zane Willingham can do more research on this matter. The Council also postponed action on a DOT Rebuild Alabama Act grant to refurbish West End Avenue until the Mayor provides an estimate of engineering costs for the project.
The grant does not require any matching funds from the City but does require the City to provide for the cost of engineering plans and specifications.
The Council asked the City Attorney to develop an advertisement for bids, to be placed in both newspapers, for repairing the streets in King Village, for approval at the next meeting.
Councilman Bennie Abrams announced that the Greene County Fire Association would hold its annual awards banquet on Friday, October 11 at 7:00 PM at the Carver Community Center gymnasium. Tickets are still available for this event.
In the public comments section of the meeting, Darlene Robinson reported that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and that the Deep South Community Cancer Network, in conjunction with UAB Medical School was working at the grassroots level to help people to get testing and screening for early detection of all types of cancers.

Eutaw City Council approves non-controversial items; tables others for next working session

Deborah Henderson, Census 2020 staff member addresses the City Council about available jobs as census takers.

The Eutaw City Council acted on some non-controversial agenda items and pushed the others where there is disagreement and more time is needed for a resolution to its next work session.
At the beginning of its meeting, the Council heard a presentation from Deborah Henderson, U. S. Census Recruiting Specialist for Greene County indicating that jobs are available for census takers for the 2020 Census. These short-term jobs pay $15.50 an hour with a mileage allowance of 58 cents per mile. Henderson said that the U. S. Census was looking for 100 applicants from Greene County. Persons interested may call: 1-855-JOB-2020 or check on line for information and applications.
The Eutaw City Council approved an application from Love’s Truck and Travel Center for a license to sell beer and wine.
The Council approved accepting a $24,000 grant from ADECA for police equipment including computers, cameras and tasers. This grant has no matching funds requirement.
The Council also approved a travel request for City Judge, Josh Swords to attend a Fall Conference, September 26-28,2019 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Attorney Zane Willingham, in response to questions from Council-members at last week’s working session, reviewed various personnel policies from the Employee Handbook with the City Council especially dealing with overtime pay.
Willingham said the personnel policies are clear that part-time employees are not entitled to holiday pay. He also explained that overtime pay is only accrued and should only be paid when an employee actually physically performs more than forty (40) hours of work in a weekly period. This means that vacation, sick leave, holidays, administrative leave, PTO hours are not considered hours worked when computing overtime.
To clarify these policies, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution stating, “Should you be required to work on a holiday, or if your regularly scheduled day off falls on a holiday – you will be given an alternate day off. You must be given an alternate day off within the same fiscal year.”
The Eutaw City Council voted to approve paying bills that were most needed from a list that was presented. In a previous meeting $200,000 was allocated from the bingo funds earmarked for Branch Heights roads to pay current bills. After these payments were made, using the $200,000, some critical bills remain to be paid.
Council members asked Mayor Steele to prioritize the bills that needed to be paid. The Mayor urged using more bingo funds to make these payments. Some of these decisions were referred to the next City Council Working Session.
Mayor Steele asked the Council to approve purchase of a generator, costing $44,763, through FEMA to use at the City Hall in times of emergency when no electricity is available. This FEMA purchase requires an $11,192 match from city funds. The Mayor wants to use bingo funds to pay the match. This decision was tabled for discussion at the next working session.
Councilman Carpenter brought up the issue of raises for city staff. The Mayor said some staff received a raise because they were promoted to a supervisory position. The Mayor said he was not sure there was enough funding to provide all staff with a raise. The Council said some adjustments in pay were needed for staff with CDL, Heavy Equipment Operator and other skill certifications. The Council then voted to hold a Special Called Meeting to deal with staff salary adjustment on Monday, September 30,2019 at 6:00 PM at City Hall.
Mayor Steele reported that he purchased an air compressor for $7,500, which was put to work fixing water leaks in Branch Heights and other locations. The Mayor says he still needs to purchase a small tractor for use in street repairs.
The Council said to bring this request to the next working session.
Councilwoman Sheila Smith moved to use some of the bingo funds in the earmarked account for resurfacing the roads in King Village. This motion passed over the objections of the Mayor who said this item was not on the agenda and the expenditure might not be needed based on the City’s overall finances and other more critical needs. While the motion passed, it seemed that this long unresolved issue was headed to the next working session before it is resolved.
Smith also questioned the Mayor about exercise and weight room equipment at the Carver School community center. Steele said this long awaited equipment, donated by the Auburn Cooperative Extension Program, arrived last week and had been set up. Rev. Barton, Director of the Center, will soon send out a press release with information about the hours and usage of this weight equipment by the public.
In the public comments section, Mary Johnson complained about her water being “milky looking”. Mayor Steele said that was an indication that there was air in the lines from repairs and that she would need to run her water until the air came out of the pipes. He promised to send someone to check on the problem. Councilman Joe Lee Powell suggested that the City purchase a supply of bottled water to give to residents when there were problems with the City water system.

Eutaw City Council holds special meeting to approve transfer of bingo funds to meet immediate bills

Chief Derick Coleman with new police officer Derrick Carter

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

The Eutaw City Council held a special called meeting on Monday night, July 15, 2019, to approve transferring $70,000 of bingo funds in a Capital Improvement Fund to meet immediate outstanding bills critical to keep the city operating.
This decision came against a backdrop of long-standing arguments over city finances between Mayor Steele and councilmembers. Council members: LaJeffrey Carpenter, Latasha Johnson and Sheila Smith have requested a budget, a meaningful plan for using city funds to cover routine and extraordinary city expenses. Councilman Joe Lee Powell sometimes joins this group especially when needed expenditures concern his district. Councilman Benny Abrams has generally voted with the Mayor.
About three months ago, the City Council in an unprecedented action removed Mayor Steele as a signatory on most city accounts and left the payment of bills to Councilmen Carpenter and Powell. These council members, aided by City Clerk, Kathy Bir have prioritized and paid the bills as best they could. The City has a list of accounts payable between $200,000 and $300,000, which were presented to the Council in the past few meetings.Councilwoman Sheila Smith points out that there are problems in the City Water Department with billing. The City sends out bills for a combination of water, sewer and garbage services. The amount of revenue coming in is not sufficient to pay the expenses for these services. Some people have received minimum water bills for months even though they know that they are using substantial amounts of water.
There seems to be a disconnect in the computer softwear used to read the new digital water meters and the printing of bills. The City has called the Alabama Rural Water Association to help diagnose and solve these water billing problems but progress in resolving the issues is slow. The Mayor insists that all problems with the new digital, self-reading meters have been resolved but the continuing dilemma of low revenues from the water, sewer and garbage fees suggests that problems remain.
Mayor Steele called Monday’s special meeting to transfer funds from the City Capital Improvement Account and from the
Special Fund for repair roads in Branch Heights to pay the current backlog of bills. Mayor Steele insisted, “ We are endangering the lives of city residents by not paying these bills. Our wifi communications have been turned off for non-payment of bills, which means our police cannot write tickets and check driver’s identities. We are not able to put chlorine in the water and people may die. We are not doing things required by state statutes.”
The Mayor asked to transfer funds from the current Capital Improvement Account, which has a balance of $70,312 and the Special Fund for Branch Heights Roads, which has a balance of $577,000 to pay outstanding bills.
A motion was made to transfer funds in the Capital Improvement Account and put the bingo funds flowing in to this account for the next six months into the General Fund to pay bills. The Council also wants to have a discussion with the Sheriff about using funds from the Special Funds for Branch Heights Roads for paying bills. The Mayor used half a million dollars in the 7 cent Highway Fund to pay for resurfacing the Branch Heights Roads, so he feels that Sheriff Benison should release funds in the Special Account for the city to pay its bills.
As soon as the motion was passed, the Mayor adjourned the meeting. This reporter had to jump up and ask that the figures be clarified so that the public would know how their monies were being spent. No figures on the funds to be transferred were used in the discussion or motion. You are seeing figures in this story that the newspaper had to beg for and pry out of the Mayor and city officials.
$70,000 of Capital Improvement funds will be transferred immediately to pay pressing bills. This fund receives $4,500 each month in bingo funds from Greenetrack, Rivers Edge and Frontier bingos, which totals $13,500. Prior to the closing of Greene Charity, there was another $4,500 a month flowing into this account. $13,500 for the month of June is still pending and expected for this account that may be used to pay bills.
Another $27,000 a month of bingo funds from the Palace is paid into the Special Fund set up by the Sheriff for Branch Heights Roads. Some councilmembers argue that these funds are needed for roadwork in King Village and other multi-family housing complexes.
In the July 9, 2019, regular City Council meeting, the Council:
• Approved ordinances to allow for Sunday liquor sales and clarifying the sale of wine in Eutaw; the ordinances will go into affect after they are published one time in the newspaper;
• Approved travel for the City Clerk and administrative assistant for training;
• Authorized the Mayor to pursue FEMA funding for repair of culverts throughout the city that have been damaged by recent heavy rains. 75% of these repairs are paid by FEMA, 12.5% by the State of Alabama and 12.5% are a local matching contribution.
Police Chief Derick Coleman introduced a new part time police officer, Derrick Carter. The Chief indicated that this hire would bring the force to seven full time and three part time officers.

Local legislation passed allowing the City of Eutaw to have Sunday liquor sales

At last night’s Eutaw City Council meeting, Attorney Zane Willingham announced that the Alabama State Legislature passed local legislation, which was signed by the Governor to allow for Sunday liquor sales in the City of Eutaw,
Willingham said, “This new legislation will allow the city to rewrite its ordinance for liquor sales and create uniformity for both on premises sales and off premises sales. The current laws make distinctions between the sale of beer and wine all of which will be corrected with a new ordinance.”
Willingham also said he would be drafting a new detailed ordinance for the sale of beer, wine and liquor for the Eutaw City Council to approve at its upcoming meetings. “This ordinance will provide liquor sales 24/6 on Monday through Saturday; but for Sundays the hours for on premise and off premise sales will be 10:00 AM to 12:00 Midnight, “ said Willingham.
More information on the liquor sales ordinance and other business conducted at the June 25, 2019 meeting of the Eutaw City Council will be covered in next week’s newspaper.