By: John Zippert,
At its March 12, 2019 meeting the Eutaw City Council and Mayor agreed to move forward with the TAP Streetscape Grant to beautify the sidewalks, street lights and some green-spaces around the Old Courthouse Square, in the center of the city.
This issue had deadlocked the Mayor and Council for the two regular meetings in February, which surfaced concerns between the Council and the Mayor on the finances of the city, limiting the hours of staff, availability of working equipment to maintain the streets and other points of disagreement.
The TAP grant involves $640,000 of funds from the Alabama Department of Transportation to redo the external sidewalks, provide new lighting and some green-spaces on the Courthouse Square, named for Sheriff Thomas Gilmore. The Eutaw City Hall, the Greene County Courthouse, the Industrial Development Authority and other county agencies have offices in the impacted area, which is the center of downtown Eutaw and the business and civic center of Greene County.
The grant requires a match of $220,000 from the city or others including $160,000 in direct matching funds and $60,000 for engineering costs. In the two February meetings, the Council postponed action on accepting the grant because of their lack of knowledge of the city finances and concern that funds were not available to match this grant.
In its February 19, 2019 meeting the Greene County Industrial Development Authority (GCIDA) agreed to provide at least a third of the $220,000 matching funds and help raise the remainder of the needed funds because of the critical benefits of the project, the GCIDA’s office location on the Square and the overall message of progress and receptivity for change that the project represents. The GCIDA has been meeting informally with officials from the City of Eutaw, the Greene County Commission and others to help find the needed matching funds.
The Eutaw Downtown Planning Committee a multi- generational, interracial group of Eutaw citizens that have been working to improve the downtown areas and the Courthouse Square presented a letter at the March 12 Eutaw City Council urging action on the TAP/Streetscape Grant. Danny Cooper who works with the Committee and also serves as Chair of the GCIDA read the letter aloud in the Council meeting.
Councilwoman Latasha Johnson asked the Mayor what had he done to meet the Council concerns that the city workers be brought back to working 40 hours, to secure proper equipment to maintain the streets and provide an audit and a budget of city finances. Johnson said, “City workers are picking up trash with pitchforks. We cannot maintain the streets after the grant without proper equipment.”
Mayor Steele indicated that he had agreed for city workers to come back to work for 40 hours as of March 15. The Mayor said he was seeking funding through USDA Rural Development for new police cars, a street excavator, trucks and other equipment. The USDA grant requires an audit of city funds for the past years, so the Mayor has secured a CPA in Tuscaloosa to provide the necessary audit. Using information from the audit, the Mayor said he could do a budget projecting the income and expenses of the city and satisfying the Council’s request for a budget. The budget would allow the City to determine which new expenses, including matching the TAP grant, that it could afford in the future.
Based on the Mayor’s assurances, Councilwoman Johnson moved “that the City proceed to do the engineering for the TAP project, based on the funds offered by the GCIDA, and continue to evaluate the viability of the project based on continued progress toward the concerns raised by the Council.” This motion was approved 3-1-1 with Johnson, Joe Lee Powell and the Mayor voting in favor; Sheila Smith voting against and LaJeffrey Carpenter abstaining; Bennie Abrams was absent.
The vote allows the Mayor to move forward with engineering needed for the Streetscape project while the Council holds him accountable for changes that he promised.
In other actions, the Council approved the following items over the past three meetings:
• Approved ‘Back to School’ Sales Tax Holiday for July 19-21, 2019.
• Approved proclamation designing April as Fair Housing Month.
• Approved expenditure of $9,000 for speed bumps on the newly improved Branch Heights roads, for safety of children and residents.
• Supports Memorandum of Understanding with the Community Services Programs of West Alabama, to distribute food and other services to Eutaw residents.
• Approved contract with RDS to collect sales taxes and business license fees.
• Approved ordinance to declare building adjacent to the National Guard Armory surplus, so that it can be used for other purposes.
• Approved letter to State Legislative Delegation in support of Sunday liquor sales in the City of Eutaw.