The Greene County Commission met in a call meeting, June 27, 2023 to consider action on an ADEM Waste Water grant application and accompanying resolution to replace timber bridge on County Road 213 over Minter Creek. The total cost of the project is $231,883. The ADEM grant will provide $150,000 (75%) of the cost, with the county providing a cash match of $11,927 and in-kind labor valued at $69.956. County employees will be assigned the tasks needed for the project during the regular work schedules. Commissioner Allen Turner offered the motion to approve implementation of the project as presented, Commissioner Garria Spencer gave the second. The motion was approved.
In the past four months, since mid-May, the Greene County Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) has made major progress with solid support from the Greene County community.
GEMS has secured funding for two new ambulances; moved to a new office, across from the Greene County Hospital; hired a new director and staff; secured a new billing agency and higher reimbursement rates from Medicare and insurance providers; and with the help of supporters was able to raise its basic operating budget.
At its May 23, 2022, meeting the board selected Chris Jones as its new director and asked the Greene County Commission, City of Eutaw, Towns of Boligee, Union and Forkland, the Sheriff, as well as other agencies and businesses to help save and support the county’s ambulance service.
This meeting was held after the prior director informed the state that the GEMS service was closing, and he resigned. The board wrote the state to rescind his letter and started to rebuild.
Prior to the May board meeting, the Greene County Commission pledged $125,000 in American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward acquisition of a new truck engine and chassis to mount and renovate the service’s existing ambulance box. The service secured a loaner ambulance until the newly refurbished ambulance is delivered later this year.
At its September 13, 2022, meeting, the Eutaw City Council approved a contribution of $26,000, of its ARPA funding as matching funds to acquire a second ambulance and stretcher from the Alabama Council on Emergency Medical Services. Joe Lee Powell, Chair of the GEMS Board says, “We will soon have two working ambulances that we need to provide services to the residents and visitors of Greene County.” The Eutaw City Council previously used $62,000 of CARES funds to provide lifesaving equipment to the service.
Chris Jones, GEMS Director, put together a plan asking the Commission and municipalities to help cover the $40,000 monthly payroll of the ambulance service for three months while a new billing agency was brought onboard and up to speed to provide the operating revenues for the system.
The Greene County Commission approved three months of operating support at $18,356 a month – a total of $55,068. The City of Eutaw has provided $36,000 in operating support since the beginning of 2022. The Town of Boligee has contributed $10,000 in support this year, including $1,500 a month, pledged for the three-month period. The Town of Union has also pledged support. Sheriff Benison from bingo funds has contributed $65,000 and pledged $8,500 a month for the three-month special operating fund campaign.
The Greene County Health System has provided a house across the street from the hospital as an office and staging area for the ambulance staff including showers, kitchen and sleeping facilities. The GCHS Board agreed to provide seven months rent at $550 a month, from June through December 2022 as a $3,850 contribution to the ambulance service operating budget.
The Greene County Industrial Development Authority contributed $5,000 towards the ambulance service. Danny Cooper, GCIDA Chair said, “You never know when you will need an ambulance – so we must support our emergency service. We must have a functional ambulance service to assist businesses and industries that may have on-the-job accidents and injuries, needing ambulance services.”
The RockTenn Corporation, owners of the Eutaw box plant have given $5,000 toward the GEMS operating budget and other businesses in the county are expected to follow this example. The services has received other small contributions from individuals.
Dr. Marcia Pugh, vice chairperson of the GEMS board and Hospital CEO, said “We are grateful to the agencies, businesses, and people of the community for coming forward to help us stabilize and support our ambulance service. We are determined to have an emergency service that can serve the people spread around our rural county. We may need continued assistance to provide timely and quality ambulance services.”
In its regular monthly meeting on Monday, September 12, 2022, the Greene County Commission handled routine mostly financial matters. All commissioners except for Corey Cockrell (District 3) were present.
The Commission received a financial report from Macaroy Underwood CFO, as of August 31, 2022, the eleventh month of the fiscal year showing $7,917,333 in Citizens Trust Bank, which included $2,761,333 in the General Fund; and $5,356,078 in Merchants and Farmers Bank, with $3,126,268 in the General Fund. There is also $1,106,649 in certificates of deposit securing bonds for the county.
Underwood reported that the Commission spent $1,481,223 during the month of August for payrolls, accounts payable and other services, including $595,985 for trucks and equipment for the Highway Department funds came from the dissolution of a Bond Warrant Account, for bonds that were refinanced earlier this year.
The Commission approved a resolution to close the Bank of New York Bond Warranty Account and put the $677.68 remaining in the account in the County’s General Fund.
The County Commission approved a resolution for one bed allocation from the State Youth Service Long Term Detention Subsidy Program. They also approved: $40,589.64 for a contract with Software Maintenance for the Appraisal Section of the Revenue Department; renewal of the CIMS Contract; approval of a request from the Circuit Clerk for repairs to the Courtroom and computers; and travel for Commissioners to a meeting in Montgomery in December.
The Commission acted on some vacancies on county related boards. They approved William Morgan for the three person Greene County Water Authority Board to fill the vacancy left by the death of Levi Morrow Jr. Commission Turner appointed Kurt Turner, who is his brother, to a seat on the Greene County Industrial Development Authority, replacing the late Rev. James Carter. Decisions on other Board positions that were vacant, including Hospital Board – District 2, Library Board – District 3, and E-911 Board – District 3, were tabled until a future meeting.
The County Commissioners held an Executive Session to hear a report from the Greene County Industrial Development Authority on their efforts to attract industries and jobs to the county. The Executive Session was to allow the GCIDA to maintain confidentiality about potential projects.
At a special called meeting of the Board of the Greene County Emergency Medical Service on Monday, May 23, 2022, Board Chair Joe Lee Powell announced, “ We are committed to keep the ambulance service open and running for the people of Greene County. We will work with the County Commission, municipalities, major employers and anyone else who wants to work with us to maintain and improve the service.”
Powell also announced the resignation of acting director Zack Bolding from his position and the appointment of Chris Jones, as Acting Supervisor of the GCEMS. Jones is an advanced EMT on the staff, which will allow the service to retain its ALS-1 rating and provide full services.
Dr. Marcia Pugh, CEO of the Greene County Health System, who is Vice-Chair of the ambulance board, said that Bolding had never been authorized to send a letter to the state Office of EMS, dated May 16, 2022, that said the Greene County EMS was scheduled to suspend operations, effective May 20, 2022 at 1800 hours. This information was broadcast over many local TV stations.
“We did not suspend operations last Friday and we are still operating now,” said Powell. He indicated that the Board had support to make payroll for staff on that date but that Bolding had not submitted the employee data necessary to make the payroll.
Bolding presented Powell with bank statements from the EMS operating account in Merchants and Farmers Bank but he whited out all the payees on the checks to make them worthless as records for any kind of investigation or audit. “We will have to get another set of records from the bank, to get the information we need,” said Powell.
This incident highlights a problem facing the Board for the past two years since Bennie Abrams and Stanley Lucious retired from the GCEMS. All monies earned by the system from ambulance services go into the operating account which was not controlled by the Board. Abrams. Lucious and others controlled and signed on this checking account. The Board tried to get control of this account but were blocked by the bank due a disagreement over the Federal EIN number used to establish the account.
The GCEMS Board opened a separate account to deposit and spend funds they raised to support the operations and purchase of new equipment for the system. The staff directors, first Nick Wilson and then Zack Bolding, did not assist the Board in unifying the funding control of the service. Because of this divide, it has been difficult for the Board to establish financial direction and control of the service. The Board had difficulty in answering financial operating questions about the services to agencies, like the Greene County Commission and various municipalities, like Forkland, Union, Boligee and Eutaw that wanted to help.
“Hopefully we will be able to correct these and other problems affecting the system, now that we have a new director and some better grasp of our finances,” said Dr. Pugh.
Powell announced that the GCEMS Board has received new donations from various sources including $5,000 from WestRock, $1,000 from the First Responders Committee of Greene County, $10,000 from TSP Support League, to add to $50,000 from the Sheriff’s bingo discretionary fund, $30,000 from Greenetrack, $5,000 from the Town of Boligee and other donations previously reported. Some of these funds are for general operations and other funds are for specific equipment needs. The County Commission has agreed to fund a $100,000 retrofit of an ambulance box on a new truck chassis, which is planned for this summer. The City of Eutaw purchased major life-saving equipment for the service in the past year.
The GCEMS Board will be meeting with the Greene County Commission on June 1, in their scheduled work session, to discuss future operating support for the ambulance system. The Commission and municipalities are expecting a second injection of funding from the American Rescue Plan, which can be used to help with the ambulance service and other pressing problems.
The City of Eutaw is planning a benefit basketball tournament, this weekend at the old Carver Gym to benefit the ambulance service.
“We are developing an immediate crisis plan to keep the service going while we make a longer-range plan for its continuing operation and survival,” said Powell.
Friends, family, and neighbors, let me start by acknowledging how trying the last couple of years has been for so many of us fighting through this pandemic and everything that has come with it. My team and I have been on the front-line and working behind the scenes: giving personal protective equipment to those without, escorting funeral services for our citizens that fell victim to COVID-19, and putting stringent protocols in place to ensure the safety of deputies, staff, inmates, and the overall public while we continued to serve and protect.
In 1982, I began my law enforcement career. I have worked as a Deputy right here in Greene County and went on to serve 24 years as an Alabama State Trooper before I was elected by the great citizens of Greene County to become your Sheriff in June 2010. I was officially appointed by the Governor to begin my term in December 2010. I am as proud and honored to be your Sheriff today as when I first swore the oath in front of friends and family.
During my tenure, I have invested tremendously in the Sheriff’s office and Jail Annex, implemented community programs and participated in large-scale law enforcement efforts aimed at lowering crime and keeping the citizens in our communities safe. For me, serving and protecting is first and foremost; however, as Sheriff, I am also tasked with promulgating the rules and regulations of the operation of electronic bingo through Amendment 743, which was voted upon by the citizens of Greene County. With much transparency, millions of dollars have been dispersed to the benefit of the municipalities of Boligee, Union, Eutaw and Forkland, the Greene County Hospital, Greene County Board of Education, Greene County Commission, Greene County Sheriff’s Office, and numerous other sub-charities and local organizations.
With everything that has happened lately, I know that life has been a series of non-stop decisions, a lot of which have been the hardest we have ever been faced with, but I am asking you to make another decision, a decision for yourself, a decision for your family, a decision for the future safety and well-being of our home, Greene County. I am asking you to head out to the polls on May 24th and make the decision to keep your sheriff! Vote Jonathan “Joe” Benison as Sheriff of Greene County. God bless us all.
The Greene County Commission opened its March 14, 2022 meeting with newly sworn-in Commissioner LaPorsha Brown representing District 1. Ms. Brown was appointed by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to fill the unexpired tern of the late Mr. Lester Brown, LaPorsha’s father. LaPorsha was sworn in Friday, March 11 by Greene County District Judge Lillie Jones Osborne, and will serve until the new commissioner for District 1 is selected in the General Election in November.
Ms. Brown also followed in her Father’s role as she was selected to serve as Vice Chairperson of the Commission. She received three votes for vice chair and Commissioner Roshanda Summerville received two votes.
The commission approved option one relative to the Greenetrack settlement on past due rent to the county for use of its share of Greenetrack property. The settlement resolution calls for $800,000 to be paid to the county by Greenetrack in five annual installments of $160,000. The specific payment plan requires an annual payment of $260,000 with $160,000 toward repayment of past rent and $100,000 in current rent payment. This rental settlement is for two years followed by a renegotiation of the current rental payment amount only. The commissioners approved the settlement on a four to one vote with Commissioner Corey Cockrell voting no.
Commission Chairperson, Allen Turner, stated that he has signed the Resolution agreement and now Greenetrack’s CEO and President, Luther Winn, must sign for it to go into effect.
The county’s Roads Department capital funding project received unanimous approval by the commissioners as well as the Franchise Agreement with Charter Communications regarding broadband services in the county. At the work session held March 9, the commission was informed by Robert Smith Charter Communications that the federal government is financing the broad band in specific areas of Greene County. The franchise agreement is needed for the right-of-way, which will provide a 5% feee to the county when the project is operating. Once the network is in, it will be possible to extend the service to other areas of the county.
The commission approved a Positive Pay arrangement for all bank accounts assuring that only listed checks will be paid.
An Employee Association bank account, which was dormant with a minimal balance, will be closed with the funds to be deposited in the general fund account.
The commission approved establishing a rainy day fund and a public works fund with $500,000 from bingo monies allocated to each fund. The commission also adopted a Fund Balance Policy requiring reserve funds. This policy was approved with four votes for; commissioner Corey Cockrell voted no.
In the commission’s recent work session the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds were discussed, noting that the county has $204,646.78 remaining and an additional $787,733.50 allocated. The commission approved a plan for expending these funds which include the following: Each commission district would be allocated up to $100,000 for qualified ARPA projects; $300,000 to the Highway Department; $150,000 for Essential Worker Pay; approximately $5,000 each to the Activity Center and the Highway Department for multi media upgrades; Approximately $10,000 each for Courthouse and Activity Center bathroom renovations. Remaining funds to be allocated later.
The commission approved a request from the Greene County Board of Education for an agreement that the county will turn over to the board moneys from millage taxes already prescribed to the board.
CSFO, Macaroy Underwood presented the commission an update on FY 2022 refunding bonds cited below.
County Refunds Bonds, Saving $336,000
Greene County Commission approved its Series 2022 Refunding Bonds in the par amount of $3,655,000 to refund its Series 2007 Bonds generating a savings of $336,316.81 or 8.72% savings. Several weeks ago, the county authorized Piper Sandler & Co. and finance to review current market conditions to determine if the county’s outstanding debt could be refunded (refinanced) at a lower interest rate to save more than 3%. This process is similar to refinancing your home mortgage and it leads to issuance of the County’s Series 2022 Refunding bonds reducing the county’s annual debt service payments by $50,000 per year from 2023 through 2037 (over the remaining life of the bonds). The annual debt service payments are secured by Road & Bridge Ad Valorem Tax and Capital Improvement fund revenue; therefore, the county will have additional funds for road projects over the next 14 years.
At its regular October meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the Greene County Commission approved a $10 million dollar operating budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022.
This budget includes $3.4 million dollar General Fund, which covers most expenses of the county. It also includes a $2.5 million Gasoline Fund and other special funds which support the Highway Department and maintenance of roads and bridges in the county. It also includes funds to satisfy bond issues for the courthouse and jail construction.
The Commission also approved a supplementary budget for additional positions in the Sheriff’s Department including School Resource Officers and additional deputies and jail positions. This budget also includes payment of a vehicle lease for new cars and vans.
Agreements have been worked out between the Commission and the Board of Education for the payment for the resource officers. A separate agreement has been worked out with Sheriff Jonathan Benison for payment
of the other additional personnel and an addition $75,000 a month ($900,000) a year for the Commission in funding from electronic bingo, for the general use of the county and to help with new capital expenditures or matching Federal funds for special projects.
Under these agreements, the Board of Education and Sheriff’s Department must advance three months payment for staffing and the Sheriff must provide the $75,000 payment by the fifth of the month. The Sheriff provided a check for $163,000, which included the $88,000 advance and $75,000 for the month of September, however, the Sheriff still owes the $75,000 for October.
Commissioners Lester Brown and Tennyson Smith pointed out that the Sheriff also has not returned vehicles he promised to return to the county, after the Commission agreed to lease new ones. Brown also said the Sheriff receives funds from the jail telephone and commissary which he does not report or give to the county General Fund. The Commission agreed to write the Sheriff to return the cars by Friday Noon and pay the $75,000 in bingo funds for October.
The County Attorney pointed out that if the Sheriff or the Board of Education does not honor its payments under the agreements that the County Commission will not be obligated to pay the supplementary staff on these budgets.
Macaroy Underwood, County CFO reported that $381,781 in bills had been paid for September and an additional $76,012 in electronic payments had been made. He also asked the Commission to approve two budget amendments for payments made to staff for extra service during the pandemic.
The Commission approved an allocation of $150,000 for a new ambulance for the Greene County EMS, from the county’s $787,0000 allocation from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. This will be a truck mounted ambulance that can be used for wrecks on the Interstate and other tasks in rural areas of the county. The Commission had previously approved $90,000 in ARP funds for an ambulance but this will only support a van type ambulance, which is not suitable for all tasks. The new ambulance will not be available until July 2022, but the Greene County EMS may be able to get a loaner model until the new ambulance is delivered.
In other actions, The Greene County Commission:
• Approved a resolution for Workmen’s Compensation for employees.
• Approved a Weather Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday for February 25-27, 2022.
• Approved advertising for a full-time worker for the Solid Waste Department.
• Approved continuation of the CIMS contract, for computer maintenance; and purchased an ice machine for the Highway Department.
• Approved an incentive payment of $3,000 for full time employees and $1,500 for part time employees of the county, for pandemic service, to be paid out of ARP funds.
On Tuesday, June 29, 2021, Greene County Sheriff’s Department issued a listing of the distributions for May, 2021, totaling $500,813,28 from four bingo gaming facilities licensed by Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison. The May distribution reported by the sheriff does not include the additional $71,000 from Greenetrack, Inc., which distributes to the same recipients, independent of the sheriff. The bingo facilities distributing through the sheriff include Frontier, River’s Edge, Palace, Bama Bingo. A distribution for May from the recently licensed Marvel City Bingo was not included in the Sheriff’s report. The recipients of the May distributions from bingo gaming include the Greene County Commission, Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the cities of Eutaw, Forkland, Union, Boligee, the Greene County Board of Education and the Greene County Hospital (Health System). Sub charities include Children’s Policy Council, Guadalupan Multicultural Services, Greene County Golf Course, Branch Heights Housing Authority, Department of Human Resources and the Greene County Library. Bama Bingo gave a total of $114,990 to the following: Greene County Commission, $30,570; Greene County Sheriff’s $33,750; City of Eutaw, $9,250; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,875; Greene County Board of Education, $10,500, and the Greene County Health System, $12,500. Sub Charities, each received $1,132.50 Frontier (Dream, Inc.) gave a total of $114,990 to the following: Greene County Commission, $30,570; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $33,750; City of Eutaw, $9,250; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,875; Greene County Board of Education, $10,500; Greene County Health System, $12,500. Sub Charities each, $1,132.50. River’s Edge (Next Level Leaders and Tishabee Community Center Tutorial Program) gave a total of $114,994.98 to the following: Greene County Commission, $30,570; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $33,750; City of Eutaw, $9,250; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,875; Greene County Board of Education, $10,500; Greene County Health System, $12,500. Sub Charities each, $1,333.33. Palace (TS Police Support League) gave a total of $155,838.30 to the following: Greene County Commission, $41,358; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $45,765; City of Eutaw, $12,543; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $5,254.50; Greene County Board of Education, $14,238 and the Greene County Health System, $16,950; Sub Charities each, 1,536.80.
News Analysis by John Zippert, Co-Publisher
The Lottery-Gambling Bill which passed the Alabama State Senate failed in the Alabama House of Representatives on the last day of the session. The bill as passed by the Senate created an Alabama Lottery with most proceeds going to higher education scholarships and established casino gambling at six designated locations in the state, with proceeds going to the state’s general fund for broadband expansion, rural health care support and other priorities. The bill provided for casino gambling with slot machines and table games, such as Blackjack, Roulette and others, at places in the state that previously had dog racing and some new locations. Casino gaming was specifically provided at Greenetrack in Greene County, Mobile, Birmingham, Shorter (Victoryland in Macon County), Dothan and a new facility in the northeast corner of the state (near Chattanooga, TN.). The lottery and gaming regulation was placed under the control of a statewide commission and tax revenues flowed to the state. There was also a provision that some portion of the taxes would be returned to the local jurisdictions where gaming facilities were located. The Porch Creek Band of Choctaw Indians that own and operate electronic bingo gambling, on tribal land, at Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery would be allowed to upgrade their gambling operations to table games, under Federal regulations. The Porch Creek interests were allowed to compete for the new location in NE Alabama. There were also provisions allowing a compact between the State of Alabama and the Porch Creek Band relative to revenues from gambling. There were many groups and interests in Greene County who opposed the bill because it did not answer some issues and questions they had. Greene County voters overwhelming approved Constitutional Amendment 743, in November 2003, which allowed electronic bingo in the county. The licensing and payment of monthly fees and charitable contributions is governed by the Sheriff of Greene County. Currently there are six licensed bingo operations in Greene County – Greenetrack, Bama Bingo, Frontier, River’s Edge, Palace and Marvel City. There were five operating bingo enterprises during the last legislative session. These bingo operations employ 300 to 500 persons in their operations, most of whom are Greene County residents. Greenetrack is responsible for approximately 100 of the employed positions. For the month of April 2021, the five bingo operations contributed $600,948.87, based on fees per machine, to the Greene County Commission, Greene County Board of Education, Greene County Health System, Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the cities of Eutaw, Forkland, Union and Boligee, as well as a group of non-profit charitable organizations. Greenetrack provided $71,000 to the same government and municipal agencies. These agencies receive over $7 million a year in revenues from the bingo operations. The heads of these agencies are quick to say without these bingo revenues they would have a difficult time in providing necessary services to the residents of Greene County. The major unresolved questions in the effort to create statewide lottery and casino gambling were what happens to the other bingo operations in Greene County, if Greenetrack becomes the only officially designated gambling site in Greene County. What happens to the other bingo halls in Greene County? Will they have to close? Will they have to lay off their employees? What guarantees are there to the county agencies, including the schools, health system and municipal governments, that receive $7 million a year in revenues from bingo, that these funds will be continued or replaced with other funds? The lottery/gambling bill died in the legislature this session but it will surely be revived again in a future special or regular legislative session. The questions we have raised in this article and that are on the minds of Greene County residents remain unresolved. Greene County is a special case, we and Lowndes County, already have an established electronic bingo industry, which was not taken into consideration in the debate on the lottery/gambling bill in this year’s session. We must take actions to assure our interests and concerns are considered in future discussions of gambling in Alabama. The Democrat will stay on top of this issue and welcomes letters and comments from our readers.