Hanceville council split over operating budget proposals


HANCEVILLE – In an extended meeting Thursday evening, the Hanceville City Council came together to support city infrastructure improvement, before splitting over questions related to funding for ongoing operations.  Members approved measures to improve the water plant and promote downtown revitalization, but could not come together on matters related to the mayor’s and council members’ salaries, nor on a proposed information technology maintenance contract for the City’s computer systems.

Water Department plant lighting

The council unanimously approved a request from the water department to apply for an energy grant to replace existing lighting at the water plant.  The requested grant is $17,543, with the City putting up a local match of $4,385.75.

Block grant for downtown improvements

The council also unanimously approved a resolution to apply for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), that would fund, according to the resolution, “a project for Downtown Streetscape improvements to include sidewalks, drainage, decorative streetlights, etc., in support of downtown revitalization efforts.”  The proposal also stated that the project would contribute to the “prevention or elimination of slum and blight conditions in Downtown Hanceville.”

If Hanceville receives the grant, the City will fund the construction of sidewalks with its cash match, while the grant will fund lighting, drainage, curbs, crosswalks and other improvements.  Work will focus primarily on areas around the block formed by Church Avenue, Alabama Highway 91 Blountsville Street and U.S. Highway 31.

Despite questions about the cost of particular items in the proposal, and assurances that the final cost could come in below the amount applied for, the council voted to apply for $350,000 in CDBG Small City funds, with Hanceville putting up a local cash match of $43,254.46.

Disagreement ends salary discussion

The council then took up the matter of mayoral and council salaries, in the form of proposed City Ordinance 616 that has been the subject of discussion for some time.  Mayor Kenneth Nail emphasized that the passing of this resolution would have no effect on the present term, as the law prohibits mayors and council members from voting for raises for themselves.  Any approved change in salary would not take effect until after the next election.

Nail proposed that council member salaries be raised from $350 per month to $500 per month, and that the mayor’s salary be increased from $31,000 to $36,000 per year.  Councilman Justin Pruett and Councilwoman Kim Brown both expressed opinions that the $350 per month amount is sufficient for council members, though they did recommend that the mayor pro tem monthly salary be raised to $500.

In addition to the current salary of $31,000, the mayor receives $12,000 per year as a member of the Cullman-Jefferson Counties Gas District board.  The mayor’s appointment to the board is automatic.  Nail and City Attorney Dan Willingham included a clause in the ordinance that would make the City responsible for that $12,000 if, for some reason, the mayor was not appointed to the board.

Councilman Jimmy Sawyer opposed that inclusion, arguing that the City should not be responsible for money that should be coming from an outside source.  He felt that the automatic appointment of the mayor to the board made the clause unnecessary, and that it could create a situation in which a mayor could simply refuse to serve on the board and then demand that the City make up the difference.  All, including Nail and Willingham, agreed that a mayor who willfully declines appointment should not receive any further pay.

As debate continued over whether the gas board pay should be considered part of the mayor’s salary, the spirit of the discussion became increasingly argumentative until Councilman Charles Wilson finally made a motion to table the matter for a later meeting.  On that the council agreed.

Smartfox Solutions information technology service contract

The council also returned to its discussion from the previous meeting of a proposed service contract with Smartfox Solutions that would provide unlimited offsite data storage, computer systems repair and maintenance, system security and firewalls, and wholesale pricing on new equipment for all of the City’s computer systems.  The proposed one-year initial contract would cost the City $950 per month.

The council and mayor looked to Councilwoman Sharon Porter for tech-savvy advice on the matter.  She stated that she had dealt with Smartfox before, and had a good experience; she also said she had received “excellent references” from other Smartfox customers she had contacted.  Porter strongly recommended approving the contract.

Wilson, though, questioned the cost of the service, pointing out that the water department receives offsite storage from Carbonite for a small fraction of Smartfox’s price.  Smartfox representatives countered that Carbonite’s service does not include maintenance and repair, and offers limited storage compared to Smartfox’s unlimited storage.  Wilson remained unconvinced and still concerned about the price tag.

When the motion was made to approve the contract, Porter, Sawyer and Pruett voted in favor.  Wilson and Brown voted against approval, and Wilson called for a roll call vote when Nail declared the motion passed.  Nail himself abstained from voting, saying that a personal relationship between himself and a company representative made him feel that his vote would be inappropriate. The motion passed 3-2.

Before the end of the meeting, Wilson, who had clearly been at odds with Nail for much of the evening, concluded his remarks by commending the mayor for his successful efforts at removing air conditioning units from the attic of the Library.  The earlier addition of a new peaked roof over the old flat roof had left the units running in an enclosed space where they operated inefficiently and were prone to overheating.

The Hanceville City Council meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month at 6:30 p.m. in Hanceville City Hall, with a work session at 6 p.m.  The public is invited to attend.

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