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.

Groundbreaking held for Love’s Travel Center at Interstate 20/59 Exit 40 Eutaw

Officials participating in groundbreaking (L. to R.): Kenneth Boswell (ADECA), Rep. Ralph Howard. Senator Bobby Singleton, Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele, Governor Kay Ivey, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Jenny Love Meyer, Rep. A. J. McCampbell, Bill Gleason (Love’s), Eutaw Council members Joe Lee Powell, Sheila H. Smith, Bennie Abrams, LaJeffrey Carpenter, and Danny Cooper (GCIDA)

On Monday, October 15, 2018, a groundbreaking was held for a Love’s Travel Center and Country Store, near the location of the new business on the Southside of the Interstate 20/59 Exit 40 on Highway 14 coming into the City of Eutaw.The mid-morning groundbreaking was attended by Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Legislative delegation members, Senator Bobby Singleton, Rep. A. J. McCampbell and Rep. Ralph Howard, members of the Eutaw City Council, Greene County Commission and other state and local agencies involved as well as Jenny Love Meyer and William “Bill “ Gleason representing the Love’s corporation. The new $12.5 million travel stop will be built on a 13.9-acre site and is expected to bring an estimated 43 jobs to the area with a projected 1,000 trucks per day. The new Love’s will be one of the largest Love’s sites in Alabama and will include a Hardee’s, Godfather’s Pizza, and Chester’s Chicken. The Eutaw location will also consist of 96 parking spaces for professional drivers, with the possibility of future expansion for more parking spaces. Councilman Joe Lee Powell welcomed the over 250 people assembled for the groundbreaking ceremony by stating, “You are welcome in Eutaw the Gateway to the Alabama Black Belt.” Rev. John Hodges, Pastor of the Saint Mathew Baptist Church in Boligee gave the invocation. Congresswoman Terri Sewell thanked all the groups and agencies present for their contributions to make the project a success. “We thank Love’s for bringing jobs to the Alabama Black Belt where they are greatly needed. We can assure you that people are our greatest asset – their strength, their intellect and their heart, which will become part of this project.” State Senator Bobby Singleton said, “this is a great day for Eutaw and Greene County. This project is a gamechanger that will bring new jobs and open opportunities for other development and jobs.” State Representatives A. J. McCampbell and Ralph Howard, who represent Greene County, echoed these same sentiments. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said, “This is an exciting day for this county, when Greene County wins, Alabama wins.” She reviewed her success in bring 16,000 jobs to Alabama since she became Governor. “We are working to make groundbreakings like this an everyday occurrence in Alabama. We know that Love’s has 14 locations in Alabama, especially in rural locations like this one. We wish them success in providing drivers a quality and safe place to rest and refuel,” she said. Jenny Love Meyer speaking for the Love’s Company said, “This will be one of 470 locations around the nation that will bear our family name. We started in Oklahoma to build clean and friendly places for truckers and other travelers. We know this new location will live up to our company’s mission and vision.” William ‘Bill’ Gleason, Real Estate Property Manager for Love’s, who was instrumental in finding the location, said, “ Our travel centers have no wheels under them. Once we build, we are with you to stay!” Mayor Raymond Steele thanked everyone involved in the project, including ADECA, Delta Regional Authority, USDA Rural Development Greene County Industrial Development Authority and the West Alabama Regional Planning Agency who provided funds and direction to extended sewage and other utilities to the Exit 40 site. The Mayor also thanked the Eutaw City Council, the Greene County Commission, Jamie Banks family, who sold the land for the project and many others for making the project possible. “We hope that this is just the beginning for new jobs and growth in our community. With this project, we have a chance to move forward together and open other new opportunities for the people of our area,” said Mayor Steele, before a large group of the invited dignitaries put their golden shovels in the ground to turn over the dirt symbolizing the start of the project.

Eutaw City Council pays bills, approves policies and agrees to July 20-22 Sales Tax Holiday

In its regular meeting on March 13, 2018, the Eutaw City Council agreed to pay bills and enact some important policy decisions.
The Council agreed to transfer $50,000 from its Capital Improvement Fund to the General Fund to pay routine bills and obligations for the month of February and those received during the first part of March.
Councilwoman Sheila Smith voted against the transfer of the funds, which she feels should be retained and used only for capital improvements as originally planned. The funds in the city’s Capital Improvement Fund were derived from electronic bingo funds provided to the City under the administration of Constitutional Amendment 743, permitting bingo in Greene County.
The Council approved a policy for the provision of public records to individuals, businesses and organizations and a form to request public records such as meeting minutes, ordinances, licenses, permits, front side of arrest records; original bids and documents on the awarding of contracts; and names, titles, resumes and compensation of city employees. There will be a $25 per hour research fee and 25 cents a page for any copies to be made as a result of request for information.
Agreements between the City and the Greene County Emergency Management Agencies to provide the City Hall and National Guard Amory facilities when needed, in an emergency, as health care and community shelter facilities, in the event of a biological, chemical or other attack on Greene County, were approved by the Eutaw City Council.
The City Council also agreed to approve the July 20-22, 2018 weekend, as a Sales Tax Holiday for the purchase of school related clothing and supplies before the start of school in August.
Mayor Steele reported that he was closing out the water improvement project and that the County Extension Service had helped plant crepe myrtle trees around the lagoon and other places in the city

In the public comments section of the meeting, Sheila Smith asked that the city utility workers check Gilbert Norwood’s water meter at 509 Johnson Street since it seems to be too deep in the ground. Latasha Johnson asked for water for gardens. LaJeffrey Carpenter said there were continuing drainage problems on O’Neal Street and there was a need for a refuse site within Raintree Apartments so trash was not placed at the roadside.
A request was made by the Cub Scouts to get use of the National Guard Armory on Saturday, March 31 for an Easter Carnival, at the non-profit organization facility use rate. This was approved.
Molly Rowe, Director of the Eutaw Housing Authority reported that some of the buildings were re-roofed in Carver Circle and that the City Inspector was to be commended for working with the contractors on this project. The City Housing Authority held a poster art contest around the theme “What Home Means To Me”. Ms. Rowe requested to display some of the artwork in City Hall. The Mayor agreed to the art exhibit provided that non-paint removing tape was used to hang the artwork.
Evelyn Isaac Esson complained that the management at the Eutaw Elderly Village was threatening residents and had placed bed-bug infested furniture on the street without proper notice that may have endangered the public. Jerome Esson asked the city to check his new water meter to determine if it was correctly installed.
David Spencer tried to be recognized for a public comment but the Mayor did not recognize him.

Neighboring residents complain at Eutaw City Council about parties at National Guard Armory

A group of residents neighboring the National Guard Armory on Mesopotamia Street in Eutaw came to last night’s City Council meeting to complain about loud and late parties at the City owned facility.
The weekend before last, there was a shooting in the early morning hours in the Armory parking lot, where one person was killed and several others wounded, including off-duty Sheriff’s Deputy, LaJeffrey Carpenter, who also serves as a Eutaw City Councilman, District 2. A motorcycle club affiliated with the Sin City Deciples sponsored the party.
Ms. Shauna Stephens who lives across the street from the Armory complained that there have been parties at the National Guard Armory that played loud music and people were screaming. “These parties need to end at a reasonable time, no later than Midnight. My mother told me nothing good happens at a party after Midnight.”
Stephens continued, “We had to call the police, after 2:15 AM, the night of the shooting. They could have shot in our house or shot in our yard. We came to this Council meeting to say that this should not happen again!” Marilyn Court, another Eutaw residents, who lives three blocks from the Armory, said, “the parties are too loud. We can hear them at my house.”
Mayor Raymond Steele answered and said that the City was taking the residents concerns and suggestions under consideration and that the shooting incident had damaged the reputation of Eutaw as a relatively calm and crime-free place to live.
In other comments, the Mayor reported that the water improvement project is nearing completion. The new water tank has been cleaned and treated with chlorine by the contractors and approved for use by ADEM. Some electrical connections between the well and the tank are all that remain to complete before the tank goes into full service as part of the improved city water system. The electrical pole in the street by the Courthouse will also be moved.

The Mayor indicated that the contractor was also updating the software for the electronically read water meters, which have been installed around the city. “You will receive a minimum bill for December this week and the next bill you receive will be a bill for January generated by the new automated water meter system. If you have questions or concerns about your water bill, come to City Hall to discuss your bill. We are going to have to work out any kinks and problems with the new digital system,” said Mayor Steele.
In other actions at the January 9 and 23, Eutaw City Council meetings, the Council:
* approved hiring of a part-time person to assist with office work and answering the phones at City Hall;
* approved fire coverage designation for houses on Highway 43, south of city limits but in the city’s fire district;
* approved travel for the Chief of Police to attend a training conference in Montgomery, February 24 to March 1, 2018;
* approved payment of bills and invoices for the month of January;
* approved use of the National Guard Armory for the Stillman Alumni Association on 2-9-2018, and the National Wild Turkey Association for 2-23-2018, with permission for alcoholic beverages;
* approved resolution for designation of portions of Highway 14, coming into the city as the Thomas E. Gilmore Memorial Highway;
* heard complaints from Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith about the disposal of a used refrigerator, left as trash on Boligee Street.
* heard from former Councilman David Spencer on his complaint of “fraud in the last city election”;
*discussed the need for a budget for the City to control and evaluate city expenditures;
* offered prayers and words of support for the full recuperation of Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter, who was injured in the Armory parking area.