Eutaw City Council votes to allow $50,000 in bingo funds to pay bills

At its special meeting on September 27, 2017, The Eutaw City Council voted to move $50,000 from its special ’Capital Improvements Fund’, funded by monthly distributions from electronic bingo to its ‘General Fund’ to pay current bills from August and September.
Mayor Steele requested that the City Council allocate $30,000 from the Capital Improvement Fund to the General Fund to pay bills. Several council members asked if this was enough money to pay bills including for repair of city equipment like the knuckle boom truck and two back hoes which were at the repair shop. The Mayor said the $30,000, he was requesting was to help pay bills at the end of the city’s fiscal year.
Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson moved to reallocate $50,000 from the Capital Improvement Fund to the General Fund to help pay bills and get the needed equipment out of the repair shop.
The motion was approved with Councilwoman Sheila Smith voting against. “ I cannot vote for this transfer of bingo funds from capital improvement for other uses without seeing a full accounting of the uses of the bingo funds since the beginning of the year,” said Smith.
Based on numbers provided by the City Clerk on all city accounts, Councilwoman Smith said that the reported August 31, 2017 balance of $88,418.25 in the Capital Improvements account “was below the amount it should be based on monthly contributions from bingo.”
Smith asked for a full accounting of the Capital Improvements Account for 2017, showing all deposits and withdrawals. Mayor Steele said he would work with the City Clerk to provide this information.
The Mayor also distributed to the City Council proposals from Mason and Gardner CPA’s for two projects, a compilation report of income and expenses for the fiscal years ending September 30, 2015, 2016 and 2017, based on bank statements and other available data.

Mayor Steele reports on Water Tower progress

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At Tuesday’s regular Eutaw City Council meeting, Mayor Steele reported on the progress of building the new water tank and tower behind City Hall. “The structure of the tower is going up and the bowl for the tank should be set this week,” said Steele.
The photograph with this story show the size and impact of the new water tower which will be linked to the new water lines, fire hydrants and water meters being placed as part of the $3.1 USDA Rural Development loan and grant package to update the city water system.
In other actions:
• The City Council agreed to a certificate honoring Sheriff Joe Benison for his help to the city with funds from electronic bingo.
• Approved a license for alcohol sales to Get Well Drug and Dollar Store.
• Approved a promotion to Sergeant for Police Officer Rodriquez Jones; Councilwoman Latasha Johnson voted against this motion because of concerns she has about the officer’s treatment of citizens of Eutaw.
•Discussed and tabled a proposal from Mayor Steele to seek a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for constructing a pavilion, bathrooms and a concession stand in the City Park on Lock 7 Road. The project is estimated to cost up to $100,000 with a 50-50 match from the city that is required.
• Approved use of the National Guard Armory for ‘New Hope – New Visions’ organization.
• Approved providing chairs and tables from the Armory for a program of the Senior Olympics in Eutaw.

Eutaw City Council approves proclamation honoring E-911

Mayor Steele and Eutaw City Council members present proclamation to E911 staff and officials and new officer’s : Tommy Johnson, Jr. and Christopher Gregory

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2017, the Eutaw City Council paid its March bills and claims, approved Good Friday as a holiday for the staff and approved a proclamation honoring the E-911 staff for National Public Safety Communications Week.
After taking these positive steps, the City Council and the Mayor began arguing about past issues and discussions.

The issue that precipitated the arguments was a motion by Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson to advertise in the newspaper for four weeks, the contents of a bill to be introduced in the State Legislature to change the selection process for members of the Board of Directors of the Eutaw Housing Authority to give the Council a role with the Mayor in appointing these board members.The Eutaw City Council, the Mayor and the city and county housing authority boards have been in an uproar for the past several months over who was properly appointed to the Eutaw Housing Authority Board and how to proceed with the merger of the city and county housing authorities.
Mayor Raymond Steele strenuously opposed the motion to advertise changes in the Alabama statute on the selection of members to a city housing authority. He said, “You are trying to take away powers given to me by the law, I am not trying to take away your powers as the City Council.”
Latasha Johnson replied that the purpose of her amendment was, “To share your role in appointing housing authority board members not to take away your authority.” She went on to say, “ In a way we are married for four years, the Council and you the Mayor and we need to learn how to work together.”
Councilman Joe Lee Powell said he was concerned that the mayor seemed to want to have “a dictatorship over the City Council.” Powell indicated that he was still concerned that the Mayor would not accept documents that he provided showing that Veronica James was incorrectly removed from the Eutaw Housing Authority Board and should be reinstated.
Mayor Steele complained that the City Council was retaliating against him by proposing to change the legislation to share the power of appointing the Eutaw Housing Authority Board. The Council then voted 4 to 2 to approve advertisement of the bill proposed by Latosha Johnson. The Mayor and Councilman Bennie Abrams voted against the motion.
Mayor Steele raised the issue of revisiting the rules and procedures for community groups to use the National Guard Armory for meetings, social events and fundraisers. The mayor said that he would like to discuss his concerns about improving and maintaining the facility at the next City Council work-session scheduled for next Tuesday, April 18. Councilman Powell reminded him that community groups charging admission or raising funds at activities using the National Guard Armory needed to come before the City Council if they were seeking a waiver of the rental fees.
Mayor Steele said the air conditioning and heating system in the building needed to be updated and other improvements made to the building. The Council agreed that a community group that had reserved the Armory for a music concert on April 15 could proceed with their event.
Council members said that they approved payment of the bills and claims but wanted a better reporting of funds and a budget against which to approve expenditures in future meetings.
Councilwoman Sheila Smith asked about the status of enforcement of the vicious dogs ordinance. Mayor Steele said the Eutaw police were issuing summonses for people to register their animals and to see if sufficient space was available to keep the animals in the city. If the owners were not complying with the ordinance then the police were taking action to correct the problems with stray and vicious dogs.
Valerie Watkins, a resident in whose house there was a sewage back up asked when the City was going to make the repairs to her home. Mayor Steele said that he was working on the claims with the City’s insurance agent and would be able to respond soon.
In the public comment sessions, several citizens rose and spook to urge the Mayor and City Council to work more closely together.
David Spencer distributed a written letter to the Mayor and City Council members concerning his allegations of voter fraud in the October 2016 Municipal Election Runoff.

Eutaw City Council approves construction financing for water project; modifies pay for some city employees; plans to update all water bills by January 2017

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L to R: Mayor Raymond Steele and Mayor Pro Tem Sheila H. Smith.

The Eutaw City Council met on November 22, 2016 for its first full meeting since the election to consider business. All members were present.
LaTasha Johnson moved to amend the agenda to consider election of a Mayor Pro Tem of the Council to serve in the absence of the Mayor. This decision was left over from the Council organizational meeting on November 7, 2016. Johnson then proposed rotating Pro Tem for a year’s term, starting with Sheila H. Smith, representing District 4 and then moving to the other districts in numerical order. This motion was approved and Sheila H. Smith was designated as Mayor Pro Tem.
City Attorney Ken Aycock brought up approval of a contract with Co-Bank, a Denver based agricultural cooperative bank, to provide interim construction financing for the $3.1 million loan and grant water project for the City approved by USDA Rural Development. Co-Bank is providing the financing during construction and USDA RD will pay off the construction loan once the project is completed according to the proposed and designed specifications.

Co-Bank’s interest is based on a commercial banking index rate that changes as interest rates rise but is currently close to 1%, which is a very reasonable rate.
The City Council moved to unanimously approve the construction financing agreement with Co-Bank, which was the last remaining paperwork hurdle before the low bidders can start the project.
Mayor Steele introduced a resolution modifying the pay rates of several positions including City Clerk, Water Clerk, Assistant Police Chief and others. The salary adjustments were approved but not shared with the public. Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith urged that the City Council consider all the police officers for a raise in the future. The Democrat has submitted a written request for the City’s salary schedule for all employees.
The Council approved the purchase of two used vehicles from ALDOT for use by the City’s Public Works Department. The Council paid outstanding bills and claims for September and October 2016.
The Council approved the travel of the City Clerk to a Municipal Training Conference in Florence, Alabama from November 30 to December 2, 2016. The Council also approved the selection of Walter Beck as Assistant Police Chief.
Mayor Steele brought up the issue of filling seats on the Eutaw Housing Authority Board. In the public comment period later in the meeting, James Powell said it was important to fill these positions so that the Eutaw and Greene County Housing Authorities could proceed with discussion of a merger, which HUD is actively pushing and supporting. “The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) wants one unified housing board to work through to improve public housing, including Branch Heights, in the city and the county,” said Powell.
Mayor Steele also brought up the need for a resolution for the City of Eutaw to accept the roads and streets in Branch Heights as a first step to finding the resources to solve the problems in Branch Heights. In response to questions, Steele said, “we need an official resolution to clear up any confusion on who owns these streets; and then we can work to find the resources to fix them. The Council asked Attorney Aycock to prepare a resolution for the next meeting.
The Mayor reported that the City water bills were 5 to 6 months behind and that citizens would soon get a water bill for three months and then in January 2017 a water bill catching up on all past due usage. “We will give residents and businesses grace time to pay these water bills, if time and payment plans are needed. We must get the water billing up to date. We are working diligently to make repairs and fix leaks in the system while waiting for the major new steps, like the digital self-reporting meters, that come with the USDA water project.”
Mr. Babb, City Engineer reported on building permits and progress on the resurfacing of Prairie Avenue from the Courthouse Square to Highway 43.