Eutaw City Council approves travel and per diem for city staff to attend training they previously opposed

At their regular meeting on August 8, 2023, the Eutaw City Council approved travel and per diem requests for city staff to attend trainings that they had previously refused to approve in the two prior meetings. The reason the Council members gave was that funds in the General Fund account were low and they were not sure they could afford to send staff to training.
Mayor Johnson said, “Some of the staff training is mandatory and necessary for staff to keep up to date for city business.” She went on to say, “We have a shortfall in our General Fund because we are expecting a reimbursement from FEMA for clean-up and debris removal from the storms earlier this year. We have not received the FEMA reimbursement because it takes time for FEMA to review and check the invoices; but FEMA has assured us the money is coming.”
Among the trainings approved were:
• City Clerk and Assistant City Clerk to attend Municipal Clerks training, September 6-8, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, AL
• City Clerk and Assistant City Clerk to attend Revenue Officers Training, October 4-6, 2023
• City Judge Joshua Swords and City Attorney, Zane Willingham to attend ALM Law Conference in Gulf Shores, Alabama, November 2-4, 2023

The Eutaw City Council formally accepted a grant of $38,755 from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation for support of the City of Eutaw Volunteer Fire Department to be used for equipment and training.The Council also approved the following items:

• A Request Form to be on the City Council Agenda.
• An Ordinance No. 08082023 – adjustment in business license issuance fee from $12 to $14, starting January 1, 2024.
• Changes in the City Handbook.
• Received letter from the Alabama League of Municipalities concerning collection of revenue in the Police Jurisdiction of the city.
• Purchase of a Pump from Stone and Sons for $9,600.
• Payment of bills for the month.
The Eutaw City Council tabled a decision approving the sale of land on Boligee Street (past location of swimming pool) to the Greene County Commission for a Water Park. The mayor said there were some details of the transaction that still had to be worked out.
Leah Banks with Alabama Power Company made a presentation on a study of broadband service in Greene County that she is conducting in conjunction with the University of West Alabama. There is a QR code to capture which leads you to the survey. For more information on the survey, contact GCIDA at 205-372-9769.

Eutaw City Council holds cantankerous meeting refuses to vote on resolution to pay contractors for storm debris work

The June 13th regular Eutaw City Council meeting saw members of the Council disagree with Mayor Latasha Johnson on financial matters, especially the payment of contractors for debris removal from the January 12 storm.
All members of the Council were present except for Larrie Coleman, District 4, who was absent.

The Eutaw City Council had previously approved payment of $267,750 to three contractors who did most of the debris removal work. The Mayor had submitted records to FEMA to be reimbursed for these and additional expenses, including the work of city employees, supplies, and administrative expenses. FEMA will only reimburse for expenses actually paid by the city.

The first agenda item at the meeting was a resolution, prepared by City Financial Adviser Ralph Liverman, to pay the debris removal contractors by transferring funds from other city accounts, primarily the 4-cent gas tax fund, the 7-cent gas tax fund, and the bridge replacement fund to the General Fund, with the expectation that these funds would be reimbursed by FEMA and replaced in the accounts. Another alternative way to pay the bills would be for the City to borrow the funds until the FEMA reimbursement was received.

Councilwoman Jacqueline Stewart made the motion to approve the resolution to move funds to the General Fund to pay the contractors. The motion died because no other member of the Council would second the motion. The members were distressed that the City’s finances were severely affected and limited by the storms, even though the funds would be reimbursed by FEMA, once the city paid these obligations.

City Attorney, Zane Willingham, advised the Council to pay the contractors since not to do so would result in lawsuits and higher costs. The Council members disregarded his legal advice.

The Mayor tried to have a special meeting on June 15 for the Council to reconsider its decision, however, the meeting was cancelled due to bad weather and unwillingness of councilmembers to attend.

At press time, the Democrat contacted Mayor Johnson and she said,
“I had no choice, the FEMA deadline for reimbursement was approaching, the Council had previously approved paying these expenses but then would not pass the resolution on using funds from several accounts to pay. At the advice of legal counsel, I went ahead and paid the bills.”

The Mayor also provided the Democrat an email from JoAnn Mallett, FEMA Emergency Management Specialist, stating that the City of Eutaw has been approved for 100% reimbursement of $177,669.83 and 75% reimbursement of $ 241,747.94, which is more than the $267,750 paid to the contractors.

Council adopts motions on financial controls

The City Council then took up a series of motions to limit expenses to make sure that the General Fund did not run out of money. The Council on the recommendation of Councilwoman Hunter agreed to suspend all travel and per diem for all departments. This motion was approved by a vote of 4 yes and the Mayor voting no, because she said, we must send staff to training and conferences from them to keep their certifications current and up to date.

The Council took up a motion to suspend all excessive overtime pay for all departments. This led to a discussion of what was the definition of excessive and the motion as tabled.

A motion to suspend all purchases without Council approval was passed by a vote of 4 to 1 with the mayor voting against. The mayor indicated that many times there are emergencies requiring the purchase or replacement of pumps, motors, and other things, which coming back to the Council would cause delays and problems.

The Council also approved a proposal from Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter that the members of the Council receive copies of employee timesheets. This was approved 4 to 1 with the Mayor being the lone vote against the motion.

A motion to cover the expenses and per diem for three members of the Water Department to receive training, died for lack of a second. This came in the context of a discussion that it was important for city staff to receive training so they could do their job better.

The Council approved a motion to recognize September 11 as “Spiver Gordon Day in the City of Eutaw”. This motion was approved 3 yes, one no (Watkins) and one abstention (Carpenter).

The Council also approved an agreement between the City of Eutaw and communities Unlimited for comprehensive technical assistance for the city water system, which includes a rate study and board training.

Eutaw City Council reviews finances;
makes board appointments

The Eutaw City Council met on Monday, November 7, 2022 for its regular first meeting of the month. The meeting was held on Monday because the second Tuesday was an election day.

The Council held an announced public hearing  at the start of the meeting to approve a resolution to vacate a city owned easement for an alley on the old Family Dollar property on Greensboro Avenue. City Attorney, Zane Willingham, explained that there is a possibility that the property will be used for a Jack’s Restaurant franchise and that the alley needed to be officially removed, so as not to be a barrier to attracting the business to the city.

Ralph Liverman, Financial Adviser, reported that the city’s financial records for the past fiscal year, ending September 30, 2022 had been completed and were ready to be transmitted to the auditors. He also reported that for the month of October 2022, the records showed that sales taxes and other revenues, exceed the 8.25% monthly projection and that most expenses were in line with the proposed budget.

Financial reports on the month of October for the General Fund, USDA Loan Payment and Reserve Accounts and the Utility Revenue Collections and transfers, were presented to the Council for their information. The annual payment to USDA on the current water system loan is due at the end of the calendar year. The reports show funds available for the payment and the accumulation of proper reserves for major repairs to the system.

The Council appointed Carrie Logan on the Eutaw Historic Preservation Board, to replace Diana Liverman, who resigned. The Council appointed Jim Logan to replace Rev. James Carter, who passed away, on the Eutaw Airport Board. The Council tabled the replacement of Rodney Wesley to the Greene County EMS Board, representing the city. He has resigned the position.

The Council heard a report from Corey Martin, City Water and Sewer Operator. Martin said the city was developing a plan to deal with a large pile of debris at the City Landfill. The city can no long burn materials it collects and must develop a plan for disposal of the materials in other landfills.

Martin reported that the city had replaced valves on tanks and made numerous repairs to leaks in the water lines which reduced water loss on a monthly basis from 70% in July to 34.3% in October. The city water and sewer lines have been mapped which will help in making repairs and determining the classification and need for additional fire hydrants.

The Council approved payment of all bills and claims and agreed to pay a scheduled employee bonus from American Rescue Plan Act funds with the next payroll on December 2, 2022, instead of waiting until the end of the year.

Eutaw City Council meeting continues to discuss Water Department

As of May 20, 2020, at 9:00 AM
Alabama had 12,701 confirmed cases of

coronavirus with
508 deaths
Greene County had 86
confirmed cases
with 4 deaths

The Eutaw City Council met for its regular meeting on May 12, 2020. The meeting with full attendance met at the Carver School gymnasium to allow for property social distancing of Council members and the audience.
Most of the City Council meeting was devoted to a continuing discussion of the need to correct problems of water meters, computers and software to read the meters, conformity in water billing and making sure that the water was generating sufficient revenues to support the City budget.
The City Council reaffirmed its decision by a 4 to 1 vote to remove Mayor Steele as Superintendent of the Water System, however, there was dissension relative to taking the next steps to correct the problems in the Water Department.
Council members, led by Sheila Smith and LaTosha Johnson, want to declare an emergency in the Water Department and contract with a company, headed by Kathy Horne, to come in and correct the management and billing problems. Horne’s firm and the Alabama Rural Water Association presented a report to the City Council in February recommending changes to improve the city’s water system.Mayor Steele insists that although he is no longer Superintendent of the Water Department, as Mayor he still has day-to-day supervision of the water system. He says that he is reluctant to bring in consultants to correct problems that he says have already been resolved.
The Mayor says that the current corrected water bills that have been sent to residents will generate an additional $30,000 in revenues for the city. He also says 90 of the new digital water meters have been reinstalled properly or replaced.
City attorney, Zane Willingham, backed the Mayor and said if the Council wants to bring in consultants, they must advertise and bid out these services under the laws governing municipalities like the City of Eutaw. The City Council voted to bid out a contract for management of the water system, however, at press time the Democrat has received no legal notice to print soliciting bids for management of the water system.
The Council also discussed the need to build more storm shelters to protect the residents of the city from storms and tornados. Councilman Joe Powell brought some cost estimates for shelters. There was a discussion of building shelters in different sections of the City with grants from FEMA. The Council voted to table the discussion of shelters until electronic bingo resumes operations, after the coronavirus, to provide matching funds for the construction of shelters.
In other business, the Eutaw City Council:
• approved a resolution honoring first responders and frontline health care workers, scheduled for May 14, 2020;
• approved a resolution supporting the renovation of Elmwood Manor;
• approved a “Back to School – Sales Tax Holiday”, scheduled for July 14-19, 2020;
• agreed to pave M & M Drive as soon as funds are available;
• discussed pending insurance claims;
• requested a list of all purchases made by the City, since the beginning of 2020, to determine if supplies are adequate;
• discussed street washouts in the City and how to contract, with FEMA funding for their repair.

Eutaw City Council votes to use $200,000 in ‘earmarked account’ to pay necessary city expenses

At the end of a long and raucous meeting, filled with arguments and motions to table issues, the Eutaw City Council voted 4 to 2 to take $200,000 from an account earmarked for Branch Heights Roads to pay necessary and accumulated bills for the city. Councilmembers: Latasha Johnson, Benny Abrams, Joe Lee Powell and Mayor Steele voted in favor while Councilmembers: Sheila Smith and LaJeffrey Carpenter voted against.
The City of Eutaw utilized $500,000 earlier this year from its gas tax accounts to resurface the roads in Branch Heights and place speed-bumps where needed. The Mayor said these funds were now needed to pay accumulated bills for needed items, like chemicals to treat the city water, repair costs for city equipment, and other expenses where vendors are threatening to cut the city off for non-payment of past bills.
City Attorney, Zane Willingham, said that he could find nothing in the Greene County Constitutional Amendment 743 authorizing bingo that restricts or earmarks the use of funds. The Sheriff’s bingo rules and the City Council’s decision to place funds in ‘earmarked accounts’ was a policy decision that could be changed by the Eutaw City Council that initially placed restrictions on the funds but now needs them for other purposes.
Mayor Steele said the city’s problems with finances are because the city tax base has not expanded over the past thirty years. “The opening of the Love’s Truck and Travel Center in October 2019, will help to employ more people and expand our sales and fuel tax revenues. But we will need more economic expansion to fully cover the costs of city services and operations.”
The City Council also agreed to purchase a new truck (estimated cost -$35,000) and a new tractor (estimated cost $20,000) for the city street department, from the gasoline tax funds.
The Council received a report from Rob Pearson, with Mason and Gardner Accountants, who presented a draft report of budgets for the City General Fund and Water Department. He said that both budgets showed a deficit with expenses exceeding revenues. After many questions from Councilmembers it was agreed to hold a more detailed discussion of the budgets at a work session to be held on the third Tuesday in September.
Mayor Steele reported that the Alabama Rural Water Services had visited and reviewed the city’s water system including the new meters, softwear and billing systems. They found 294 problems and have corrected 200 of them. “They plan to be back soon to correct the remaining accounts and get the system operating properly,” said Steele.
The Council tabled a number of controversial issues that come up regularly at meetings, such as the policy not to accept cash, undercover tags on city vehicles, use of city facilities for meetings and activities of non-city agencies and organizations, drainage repairs on private property, salary increases for staff, disposition of the Assistant Police Chief and others.

Eutaw Mayor and City Council in disagreement on major issues

By: John Zippert,

At Tuesday night’s meeting on March 26, 2019, Mayor Raymond Steele and the Eutaw City Council remain divided over major issues.
In response to the written agenda passed out for the meeting, Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter asked to place two additional items on the agenda, including a request for an Executive Session on a personnel issue and a follow-up to the council’s resolution on check signing.
Mayor Steele was visibly distressed and said that council members should bring their agenda suggestions to him before the meeting so that they can be reviewed and the staff can prepare a response and provide information that is needed. The Council added these items to the agenda over the Mayor’s objections.
After a short eight minute Executive Session, the Council reconvened and asked the Mayor if he had implemented a resolution they passed at the January 22, 2019 meeting, which removed the Mayor as the signatory on most city bank accounts and made Councilmembers Joe Lee Powell and LaJeffrey Carpenter along with City Clerk, Kathy Bir as the designated signatories on these accounts.
Mayor Steele said he had not implemented the change because he had not been given reasons for changing the signatories. “ I am in charge of the day to day business of the City, it is critical that the Mayor be able to sign checks. I do not have any problem with adding other signatories to the accounts. You will not tell me why you don’t want me to sign –
This is not right.”
Councilwoman Latasha Johnson asked City Attorney, Zane Willingham, to prepare written instructions for the City Council as to “what to do when the Mayor does not implement policies and actions decided and approved by the Council.” The Council in a resolution approved these instructions.
Councilwoman Latasha Johnson also indicated that the Mayor had not implemented the policy, also adopted in the January 22, 2019 meeting, that cash would not be accepted to pay water bills and other obligations to the City. Johnson said,
“Cash is still being accepted, no signs have been posted as we requested. The Mayor has decided on his own not to implement this policy on taking cash approved by the City Council.”
Councilwoman Sheila Smith questioned the Mayor about problems with the water bills. “Too many residents are paying the minimum water bill of $38.58 for residences and $58.38 for businesses. The water meters or the water meter reading system is not working properly and we are loosing money we need to pay for the water system and operate the city.”
Mayor Steele said that all of the new meters have been checked and are working properly. He said that he would review this problem again and try to find a solution.

The Council was given a detailed report on bills to be paid for the month of March. Several Councilmembers objected that they we given the information about the bills late and did not have time to study the expenditures. Payment of the bills was tabled until the next meeting to give the Council members time to review.
LaJeffrey Carpenter asked Mayor Steele why he had only re-paved the roads in Branch Heights, while the roads in King Village, Carver Circle and other parts city also needed similar repairs. The mayor in exasperation answered, “ You know we agreed to the roads in Branch Heights as a special project. We do not have enough money at this time to do all of the roads or make all of the repairs that the Council is requesting.”

The Mayor indicated that he was trying to get some disaster relief funds allocated to the City of Eutaw for street repairs since the recent rains had eroded some of the streets.

Mayor Steele said he was still working on an audit which was necessary to secure funding for new police cars and construction equipment from USDA Rural Development.
“The equipment we have is worn out and more than ten years old. We have no new tax base and limited funds to pay for needed improvements to the City. When we start earning new taxes from the Love’s Truck Stop, then we may be able to afford the repairs and improvements needed by the City,” said Mayor Steele.
Councilmembers responded that this was why they were asking for a budget and audit so they could understand and project the City’s finances to pay current obligations and plan for future expenditures.
In other actions, the Eutaw City Council approved a retail beer and wine license for Love’s truck Stop and publication for four week’s of the City’s request for Sunday alcohol sales, which will generate some additional revenues.