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Florala , Alabama
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July 20, 2011     The Florala News
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July 20, 2011
 

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.2 - - ! 900 # L.ocation Of'One Hundred Forty Consecutive Annual Masonic Celebrations ONE HUNDRED TENTH YEAR WEDNESDAY NUMBER ! 8" 8 PAGES PRINTED ON ! 00% RECYCLED PAPER,JULY 20, 20 ]1 50 PER ISSUE (8ALES TAX INCLUDED) mm by Jan Allred Officials with the Alabama Department of Transpor- tation are in the process of planning a corridor study into the feasibility of four-laning U.S. Highway 331 from Opp to the Florida State Line. ALDOT says the study would determine a way to add additional lanes that would cover an almost 20 mile section from U.S. Highway 84 south through Flo- rala. The four-laning of Hwy. 331 was one of the topics discussed at a public hearing held by ALDOT in Troy, AL recently. For years, local, couaty and state officials have argued the need to four lane Hwy. 331 to not only widen the road but make the road safer for the amount of traffic that travels it each year. During the study, engineers will look to find a width cut that may be either one or five miles wide and name a number of alternate routes. Public meetings will also be held to seek public input on routes and that process will continue until a preferred route is selected. The four laning Hwy 331 is something Florala of- ficials have sought since former Mayor Glen Zorn, now Deputy Oommissioner of Agriculture and Industries, began the campaign. However, the concern Florala officials and business owners have is that if thestate does four lane the highway, would that new route by- pass the city. This would certainly spell trouble for the small business owners who struggle to survive even with the current traffic througl the city. ALDOT officials say its to early to try and speculate on what route the highway will take because there are a number of factors that will be looked at and weighed. Florala business owners and residents are urged to attend any public hearings where the possible route of four laning Hwy. 331 will be discussed so they can voice their concerns. J by Jan Atlred The Florala City Council voted at last week's meeting to draft an ordi- nance "that will charge residents when the Florala Volunteer Fire Depart- ment responds to vehicle accidents, house fires or grass fires: Florala Volunteer Fire Department (FVFD) Chief Keith Martin said the City of Opp has a similar ordinance in place and he felt it would be a sound fi- nancial decision for the City of Florala to adopt an ordinance that will allow the fire department to send a bill when they respond to car accidents, house fires or grass fires. Martin said when he first started researching the issue, he was against it but he went home and reviewed his homeowner's insurance policy and dis- covered if his house was to catch on fire there is a provision to pay the fire department. Residents should under- stand that only people who have insur- ance will be billed for the fire depart- ment's response, he said. The issue of charging renters and those hying in apartments was not addressed. According to Martin, the FVFD cur- rently has 26 members and it costs the city more and more when they respond to a fire. The" city currently pays fire fighters $20 for each call they r~spond tO. Martin said he wanted residents to understand the department would be billing their insurance companies and the majority of pohcies have a provi- sion to reimburse" fire and rescue per- s*onnel. It is a routine practice in larg- er cities with a paid department to bill for fire calls. The City of Opp suggested the city use Covenant Bill of Union Grove, AL for billing. Martin said when they respond to a fire they would find out from the owner if they have insurance and include that in a report they se~d to Covenant Bill, who in turns bills the insurance company. He said response rates can be set by the city and recom- mende&the fee be $485 of which Cov- enant Grove would receive 25%. When he reviewed the 2010 fire department responses, Martin said based on those figures if they charged at that time, the income would have totaled $15,000 or more. The practice of bilhng for fire re- sponse is not new nor it is unusual, said Martin. The department will di- vide the funds with the city. Should the city budget $17,000 for fire calls but the actual cost is $20,000 then the fire department would reimburse the city $3,000. Cotmcilwoman Hazel Lee asked what would happen if a person's insur- ance won't pay. Martin said the home owner wouldn't be responsible. The fire department discussed the ordinance at their last meeting along with ways to cut costs. Martin said there were mixed feehngs in the de- partment regarding bill for calls. They even discussed limiting the number of members but were hesitant to do that because they might miss out on some well qualified people wanting to serve their community. Councilman Jimmy Waldrop asked if the department would bill for false alarms. Martin said they should charge $250 when they respond to false alarms to cover call fees and gas but suggested a resident er business be given three false alarm calls each year. According to Martin, after the first false alarm the caller would receive a letter warning them against mak- ing false calls~ the second false alarm would warrant a certified letter being sent to the caller telling them they would be receiving a fine if they con- tinued to make false alarms; and the third time the caller would be fined $250. The FVFD receives about 30 false alarm calls each year and fuels costs and manpower must be consid- ered. Martin said one business logged over 100 false alarms last year alone but have yet to fix the mechanical problem causing the system to activate the fire alarm. '2VIaybe billing them for the calls will motivate them to fix the problem and if they don't we'U bill them," Martin said. Councilwoman Debra Inabinett questioned if a homeowner's insurance will increase due to the billing. 'Mar- tin rephed, "If your house burns, your insurance is going up anyways." In- abinett said charging for fire response concerns her because most people have a insurance deductible and it might put them in a financial hardship. Councilwoman Gloria Cassady wanted to know what the rates for re- sponse would be, for example would it cost the same amount should the department respond to a false alarm rather than a housefire. Martin told Cassidy the department would only charge for a fire response if they de- ploy lines and fight a fire. Williamson told the courmil he would get with City Attorney Wesley Laird to begin drafting an ordinance. Allotting additional money for the Florala Pharmacy lawsuit was dis- cussed. Mayor Robert Williamson said the lawsuit over business hcense fees is over $400 and to date has c(rst the" city between $20,000-$25,000. The Florala Pharmacy is suing the city because they say prescription tax- es can't be included in assessing the business license fees. Charles Smith, Florala Pharmacy owner has a lawsuit against both the City of Andalusia and the City of Florala. The amount in- volved with Andalusia is about $80,000 but the amount in dispute with Flora- la is only $400. The circuit court and court of civil appeals has ruled in favor of the city and the pharmacy is appeal- ing to the Alabama Supreme Court. If the city doesn't pay the additional $5,000 retainer then the city wouldn't be represented should the Alabama Su- preme CffUrt accept the case. William- son feels the case is a "waste of taxpay- er money and a frivolous lawsuit" he didn't see anyway to avoid paying the retainer. The city has tried to settle a number of times but the plaintiff will only let the city out of lawsuit if the city a~knowledges Alatax was wrong in assessing the fee and side withhim, which could jeopardize the city's'rela- tionship with Alatax and open another can of worms. There is also the charice the supreme court will not hear the case but should they then the city definitely needs to be represented, said Williamson. City Attorney Wesley Laird advised that the city continue with the case saying it would probably end up costing the city a significant amount of money if they don't pay the retainer. John Peek is the city's attorney on the case. Council voted 3-2 to begin the pro- cess of paying half the ~ost of building bathrooms at Lake Jacksofi. Council members Hazel Lee, Marvin Williford and Debra Inabinett voted to move forward with the project with Jimmy Waldrop and Gloria Cassidy voting no. Williamson wants to build the bath- rooms because Florala has to show the state they are willing to absorb some of the cost of maintaining the lake be- cause it is such an asset to the city. "To me it's a matter of putting your money where your mouth is," William- see COUNCIL page 2 Effective immediately, Governor Robert Bentley and Linda Casey, State Forester of Alabama, have rescinded the Drought Emergency (No Burn) Order currently in place for Baldwin, Mobile, and Monroe counties The State For- ester has also lifted the Fire Alert for the other 64 Alabama counties. According to officials with the Forestry Commis- sion (AFC), the state has received enough rain over the last couple of weeks to reduce the threat of catastrophic wild- fire. The AFC urges anyone conducting outdoor burning to follow safety recommendations such as not leaving a fire unattended until it is out," having the necessary equipment and personnel to control the fire, find having a garden hose or other water supply on hand for smaller debris burns. Any fire more than a quarter-acre in size or within 25 feet of a forested area requires a permit from the AFC. Burn permits may be obtained by calling 1-800-392-5679. Burn- ing without a permit is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or up to a $3,000 fine. The AFC will not issue burn permits for those 12 coun- ties prohibited from summer burning under the "ADEM" (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) restrictions. (For details, see www.forestry.alabama.gov/ FireWarningDesc.aspx.) There are also some county and municipal laws that restrict outdoor burning. Burners are responsible for contacting their local government for addi- tional information. The Alai~ama Forestry Commission is the state agency charged with protecting and sustaining Alabama's forest resources. To learn more about the services provided by the agency, contact any AFC county office or visit the web page. at www.forestry.alabama.gov. The Florala Utilities Board awarded a bid last week at their monthly meeting to Empire Pipe & Supply for the wireless ride-by radio meter read system. The bid was ap- proved as follows: $246,575.00 - Master Meter water me- ters with modules; $51,900.00- gas mo~dules only; $66,800 - installation.material; and $91,195.00- installation of water meters for a total bid of $456,700.00. A lot of stddy went into the process of awarding bids for the wireless meter system by a review and recommenda- tion committee consisting of: Lynn Hughes, manager; Mike Holley, superintendenti Ed Hickman, foreman; Rickey Man- ning, WO; Jon Kimbril CGO; and Michael Walsh, GO. Each company submitting a bid was ranked by a scoring system and Empire Pipe & Supply received the highest score. Robert Peterson of Empire Pipe & Supply said that vork will begin on the project during the first of August, and should be completed by the end of September. Benefits of such a system includes years of maintenance free operation, the virtual elimination of tampering and vandalism, customer leak alerts, backflow theft alerts and a more accurate measure of customer usage. The system has approxXmately 1,100 water meters and 600 gas meters. Currently, it takes 1-2 weeks to read all the meters and additional time to prepare billing. With the wireless system, meters can be read in just a few hours and this will also enable workers to be utilized more ef- ficiently. Paul Darnell addressed the board regarding a CDBG Sewer Rehab Grant application. In order to qualify for the grant funding, apphcations must be submitted by August 1. The maximum amount of grant funding available is $350,000 with a 10% minimum match by the board. Darnell said that the board might want to consider ap- proving more than the 10% match because most of the cit- ies competing for these grants are committing more than the minimum match. The city could possibly improve their chances of being awarded a grant if they show that they are trying to contribute more than the minimum. Following some discussion, the board agreed to allocate $50,000 in matching funds towards the CDBG sewer grant. If received, the grant will be used to renovate the Lake Jackson Pump Station and possibly portions of the Wood Avenue area. In other business the board: * Approved accounts payable * Set the next meeting date of August 8 at 11 a.m. t tb ! 1