After quickly settling into business and agreeing to pay the bill for ambulance service in the county, security in the courthouse and annex buildings fell under question. With other counties having some recent troubles, judges are concerned about the level and type of security measures taken at the Bibb County Courthouse and Annex.
Circuit Judges Marvin Wiggins, Collins Pettaway, and Probate Judge Stephanie Kemmer appeared before the Commission with Sheriff Jody Wade to discuss Courthouse Security. The Judges asked the Commission to task someone to meet with Sheriff Wade to discuss needed upgrades to Courthouse Security and issues regarding transportation of jail prisoners to court for initial court appearances. The party also briefly touched on the need for upgrades to camera systems and metal detectors. After a brief discussion the Commission agreed to have Administrator Reeves communicate through Sheriff Wade and bring before the Commission at a future meeting a recommendation on security improvements and the best process for implementation.
Security improvements in the courthouse are not a new topic, and some upgrades have been implemented in recent years, with more underway. Twenty additional panic buttons and a new security door are being installed currently. According to Emergency Management Director Kirk Smith, when someone presses a panic button in the Courthouse a message instantly is sent to police dispatch and all police radios, notifying not only that a button was pressed but pinpointing which exact one was activated, allowing officers to take immediate action at the point of concern.
New Air Conditioner for Rock Building
County Administrator Reeves pointed out that after “piecing together” and repairing the now 21 year-old air conditioner for the past several years – recharging the system alone runs $2,800 – it may be time for a new unit. The Commission agreed and the motion passed.
$901,000 Grant for New Water Tank
Not so much an issue as a statement, Mr. Reeves brought news from his visit to Montgomery last week, with the major point being a grant approved to install a new water tank in the Industrial Park for all occupants to share.
Donated Vehicles Accepted for Sheriff’s Department
Three previously-owned vehicles donated to the county were approved by the Commission to be put on county insurance and added to maintenance and use under the Sheriff’s Department.
Mr. Reeves also brought a question regarding the previously passed motion to accept retroactive expense pay for the Commissioners. Mr. Reeves asked to reach out to the Attorney General for guidance on how much should be paid, and by what method or process. The motion passed.
The “back-pay” question arose when Commissioner James Kelly motioned for the back-pay to be accepted during the November 26, 2018, Commission meeting. The retroactive pay would come out of the gas tax, according to the State Code section that defines its existence. From my estimates based on reading the code and related materials, it is possible this retroactive back-pay could total over $20,000, meaning more than $4,000 to each Commissioner. Several questions still surround this issue, including how it would be distributed and whether all current Commissioners would receive a portion or not. The motion to receive the back pay was voted yes during the November meeting by Commissioners James Kelly, Charles Caddell, and Rodney Stabler, with Sammy Holdsambeck voting no, and Keefe Burt absent. You can read more about it here.
Also of note regarding expenditures paid by the gas tax is the shortage of funds for the county Road Department, for which the gas tax is the only source of revenue. The complications of Road Department funding came to light as the County Engineer took the podium to address the Commission.
Roads Pounded by Recent Rains
County Engineer Jeff McKinney brought several issues to the Commission, beginning with a request that he be allowed to attend a vegetation management meeting in Tuscaloosa to maintain his certification in the subject. The cost being only $90, the Commission approved the request.
Mr. McKinney described damage to paved roads that washed out because of insufficient drainage during the heavy rains of the recent weeks. To remedy the situation for future events, he requested to purchase new larger and/or additional drain pipes for certain placements along three different roads, for a total cost of less than $8,000. Asked about a different road where a similar drainage fix had been performed, he reported that road was currently in good shape with no issues from the heavy rains. The Commission approved the request.
Addressing the often hot topic of potholes around the county, a request to purchase $2,800 of coal-mix material as a stockpile on standby for filling potholes quickly and efficiently was approved after some discussion of the new material’s potential effectiveness.
Insurance and the Gas Tax
The most expensive item of the night came in the form of insurance. Having the difficulty both financially and practically in keeping machines, vehicles, and equipment functional, a further necessary expense comes in the form of liability insurance for the road department on all of the same machines, vehicles, buildings, and equipment. The Road Department portion of the insurance bill totals a staggering $81,194.60 for the year – a sum which Mr. McKinney stated the department did not have available. He asked that the Commission pay the insurance bill at this time, as they have done in the past. The insurance bill always comes due in January, and some years the Road Department has been able to cover it, but many times not, as is the case now.
“I don’t have the funds right now, in the 7 Cent fund,to cover this. and I’m asking the commission for help, if they could cover this cost indefinitely or for a period of time, however. I need the help.” — JEFF MCKINNEY, County Engineer
Commissioners questioned the availability of funds in this matter, with the County Engineer stating that the gas tax – the road department’s only source of funding – simply does not provide enough revenue at a time to allow for such large expenditures. He suggested along with the request that the Road Department could pay back the amount to the Commission, but it would take quite a long time. Commissioners and the County Administrator considered paying part of the bill from the general fund, which would have to be paid back, and part from the capital improvements fund, which would not. After some deliberation, the motion to pay the insurance bill for the Road Department passed, with the details of how much would come from general fund versus capital improvements to be sorted later. The Road Department has previously had to borrow from the commission via the general fund, and currently has an outstanding loan of $41,000.
The funding from the gas tax that is distributed by the State comes in on the 10th of each month in four different accounts. The rules of how and from which account these funds are used restrict how much is available at any given time. The 7 Cent tax account must be used to pay salaries, equipment purchases, and other bills, and is thus the most difficult to keep money in, according to Mr. McKinney. He elaborated, stating that following the rules in place he is able to transfer some monies between accounts but only under certain circumstances as road projects are under way.
With limited staff and seemingly underfunded, keeping our county roads – both paved and dirt – in usable shape seems a daunting task. In speaking with him after the meeting, Mr. McKinney said, “It can take years to save up funds to be able to re-pave a road.” He noted one case from a few years ago of a 12.5 mile repaving project that cost almost $2million, and took almost four years to save enough funds before the project could even begin. Keeping diligently frugal and doing as much work and creative fixes “in-house” as possible helps to keep the road department operational, and our roads passable and safe.