Whorton, Fincher appointed to House Committees

The new members of Chambers County’s legislative delegation have been appointed to serve on committees in the Alabama House of Representatives for the upcoming legislative session.

Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) said committee assignments were made based upon the experience and expertise that each member of the House possesses.

District 38 State Representative Isaac Whorton (R-Valley) has been appointed to serve on the Boards, Agencies and Commissions Committee, the Local Legislation Committee and the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

“As a practicing attorney, I’m proud to put my experience to work on behalf of the citizens I have been elected to serve,” Whorton said. “I’ll work to keep our roads and citizens safe on the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, and make sure that taxpayers receive the representation and services they deserve as a member of the boards and local legislation panels.”

“As a successful attorney with an innate knowledge of the law, Rep. Whorton has a skill set that is perfectly suited to the three committees to which he has been appointed,” Hubbard said. “I know that the citizens of our state will benefit greatly from his service in the Alabama House.”

District 37 Representative Bob Fincher (R-Woodland) has been appointed to serve on the Agriculture and Forestry Committee, the Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee and the Education Policy Committee.

“As a retired teacher, I’m proud to put my experience to work as we improve public education and implement policies that are in the best interests of students, parents, and teachers across the state,” Fincher said.  “I’ll work on the campaigns committee to keep our elections honest, and as a member of the agriculture panel, I am aware of the important role that farming and ranching play in the economy of East Alabama.”

“As a retired public educator with decades of experience, Rep. Fincher has a skill set that is perfectly suited to the education policy committee,” Hubbard said.  “I know that the citizens of our state will benefit greatly from his service in the Alabama House.”

Whorton and Fincher were elected to the Alabama House in 2014 and recently participated in the constitutionally mandated organizational session of the Legislature.

The 2015 regular session is scheduled to convene on March 3 and is expected to adjourn sometime around mid-June.

Chambers County School System gets national attention for letter

The Chambers County School System made headlines last week after a letter sent home to W.F. Burns Middle School parents encouraging the use of canned foods to repel an intruder was published by several national news outlets.

In the letter, which was sent out on January 9, 2015, W.F. Burns Principal Priscella Holley said, “As a result of shootings throughout the United States and discussing with law enforcement on the best procedures to follow to keep our students safe, we are enhancing our procedure for intruders.

“The procedure will be the same as we have done in the past with the addition of arming our students with a canned food item. We realize at first this may seem odd; however, it is a practice that would catch an intruder off-guard. The canned food items could stun the intruder or even knock him out until the police arrive. The canned food items will give the students a sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters their classroom.”

Holley goes on to state in the letter that the procedure is being used in other schools throughout the area and United States and asks that each student bring an eight-ounce canned food item to school.

She says that the cans will be donated to The Food Closet at the end of the school year.

Chambers County Superintendent Kelli Hodge said the idea for students to carry canned goods falls in line with the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) approach to dealing with a threat. Throwing the cans would be part of the Counter stage of ALICE.

Hodge noted that using the cans as weapons would only be a last resort for students unable to evacuate and that the cans would be stored in the classrooms and would not be carried around by the students.

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City Council accepts CDBG project bid

The LaFayette City Council approved a resolution Monday night accepting the low bid for the city’s major water line replacement project made possible by a Community Development Block Grant.

The base bid of $839,034 was submitted last week by Ballard Construction out of Alex City. The council had the option to choose from three bids, the base bid and two alternate bids. The base bid includes the installation of new water lines at dead-end portions and looping them back to existing pipes to improve water flow in the city. The project will also replace approximately 2,000 feet of cast-iron pipes with PVC pipes on 1st Ave. NW and change the connection for houses on Alabama Ave. from the old cast-iron pipes to an existing PVC water main already in the area.

Alternate bid one was for $36,455 and included replacing 400 feet of 2-inch water lines to serve nine buildings on LaFayette Street South. Alternate bid two was for $39,896 and included the extension of water lines under the Hwy 50 bypass to serve the potential Advantagesite in the LaFayette Industrial Park.

City Water Distribution Superintendent Jeff Williams told the council that the city had the capability to perform the work specified in the first alternate bid, and thus the council elected not to accept that bid. Engineer Allen Tucker told the council that because the first alternate bid was not accepted, the second alternate was not allowed to be accepted.

City Attorney Mac Tucker noted that, while the city will not be able to pursue the second alternate bid, it should be kept on the council agenda for future consideration. He noted that the county and Chambers County Development Authority had committed funds to that project, so the city needed to take advantage of it when possible.

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Groundbreaking held for new Chambers County 911 Center

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new Chambers County 911 operations center was held on Wednesday last week in Huguley. The new 7,000 square foot facility will be located next to the current 911 center. Pictured at the ceremony, from left, are Valley Police Chief and 911 Board Member Tommy Weldon, LaFayette Police Chief and 911 Board Member Kenny Vines, County Commissioner Henry Osborne, Chambers County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy and 911 Board Member Richard Carter, Lanett Fire Chief and 911 Board Member Johnny Allen, Chambers County EMA Director Donnie Smith, 911 Board Chairman Byron Pigg, County Commission Chairman David Eastridge, Lanett City Councilman Kyle McCoy, Valley City Councilwoman Marquetta Madden, Valley City Councilman Henry Cooper, Lanett Mayor Oscar Crawley, District 37 State Representative Bob Fincher, District 38 State Representative Isaac Whorton and County Commissioner Joe Blanks.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new Chambers County 911 operations center was held on Wednesday last week in Huguley. The new 7,000 square foot facility will be located next to the current 911 center. Pictured at the ceremony, from left, are Valley Police Chief and 911 Board Member Tommy Weldon, LaFayette Police Chief and 911 Board Member Kenny Vines, County Commissioner Henry Osborne, Chambers County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy and 911 Board Member Richard Carter, Lanett Fire Chief and 911 Board Member Johnny Allen, Chambers County EMA Director Donnie Smith, 911 Board Chairman Byron Pigg, County Commission Chairman David Eastridge, Lanett City Councilman Kyle McCoy, Valley City Councilwoman Marquetta Madden, Valley City Councilman Henry Cooper, Lanett Mayor Oscar Crawley, District 37 State Representative Bob Fincher, District 38 State Representative Isaac Whorton and County Commissioner Joe Blanks.

A crowd of city, county and state officials braved the cold last Wednesday morning to take part in a groundbreaking ceremony for Chambers County’s new state-of-the-art 911 center.

The ceremony marked the beginning of construction of the 7,000-square foot facility located in Huguley, which is expected to be completed in 18 months.

The new $1.7 million 911 center will be located adjacent to the current center, which has fallen below modern standards. It will be constructed with concrete blocks; the dispatch room will be built into an embankment and will be surrounded with thick concrete walls and roof. It would ensure continued operations even in the worst weather.

The new center will be set up with six dispatch stations and can be expanded to 10 stations if necessary, plus additional space for training, meetings and disaster operation functions will be available. It will include the most up-to-date equipment for emergency management, including locating cell phone calls. The building will have showers and bunker space for 911 personnel who may have to stay there during severe weather, and will house a generator and an auxiliary radio antenna that could be raised if the main antenna were knocked out.

Once the new facility is completed, it will house administrative offices in addition to the dispatch center.

The current center, which has been used since 1988, would be used for storage and to house radio equipment. The existing radio tower will continue to be used and it will be linked to the new center by fiber optic cable.

At the ceremony, 911 Center Director Donnie Smith, Chambers County Commission Chairman David Eastridge and Chambers County Emergency Management Communications District Board Chairman Byron Pigg each noted that the new center was a big step in providing quality emergency response to the citizens of Chambers County.

Pigg noted that about 5,500 calls were received the first year the county system was implemented and that 56,416 calls were received in 2014.

With municipalities, local fire departments and the county appropriating funds to pay dispatchers salaries, the board is charged with maintaining adequate facilities and the needed equipment. The county’s 911 fees had been declining because they were assessed only to landlines, but that with new state laws, all phones, including cell phones, pay 911 fees. That has created a more stable source of revenue allowing the board to seek financing to build the new facility.

AuburnBank will provide the financing for the project through bonds, and Principle Construction of LaGrange will be the general contractor. JMR+H of Montgomery is the project architect and 911 Consult, of Montgomery, is the project management consultant.

Smith said that many lessons were learned from the April 2011 tornado outbreaks in the south and those were incorporated into the design of the facility.

“Emergency communications including 911 are the lifeline for our citizens in time of emergencies,” Smith said. “Keeping these systems up and running no matter what the conditions are is our primary mission.”

Commissioners approve final ATRIP project bid

The Chambers County Commission held their first meeting of 2015 Monday afternoon, and among the items addressed were awarding the final ATRIP (Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program) project bid and approving a contract with the Alabama Department of Revenue to handle tax collections in the county.

County Engineer Josh Harvill recommended the final ATRIP contract for the resurfacing of County Road 62 be awarded to East Alabama Paving Company, Inc. for $1,114,550. The state will fund $891,640 of the project, leaving the county to pay $222,910.

The commission unanimously approved Harvill’s recommendation for the projects bid, which will include resurfacing, widening and striping 6.621 miles of County Road 62 from County Road 54 to State Road 77.

In regards to other ATRIP projects, Harvill said that he hoped work would resume in the next few weeks on Kilpatrick Road. He said that work on two bridge projects and the County Road 79 project could begin as early as February. The County Road 211 and County Road 62 projects may begin in the spring.

The commission’s Rules, Ways and Means Committee had previously recommended that the state Department of Revenue oversee the county’s sales tax, use tax, lodging tax and rental tax collections and Monday that recommendation was unanimously approved by the full commission.

County Attorney Skip McCoy noted that the DOR will be paid two-percent of taxes collected for their services and will provide auditing services at no charge. They will also make weekly electronic deposits in the county’s designated account and provide monthly statistics on collections.

The DOR will begin collections in the county on March 1, 2015.

A recommendation to increase County Manager John Dendy’s part-time salary to $24,000 was approved. Commissioner Debbie Wood said the state retirement system increased the amount Dendy could make by $1,000 without affecting his retirement pay.

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Deputies discover meth lab while serving arrest warrant

Chamber County Sheriff’s deputies made a surprising discovery while serving an arrest warrant in Cusseta last week.

Sheriff Sid Lockhart reported that on December 30, deputies were in Cusseta attempting to serve an arrest warrant on a suspect wanted for probation violation. While in the area around the 11000 block of County Road 82, deputies observed a white male running from a residence. The individual, David Raymond Wheeler, 37, of Cusseta, was captured by deputies a short time later and arrested for probation violation and resisting arrest.

After the arrest, deputies noticed an odor at the residence they believed to be from methamphetamine production. The Chambers County Drug Task Force was called to assist in a search and they subsequently discovered a methamphetamine lab in the residence.

Wheeler was additionally charged with the manufacture of a controlled substance, trafficking methamphetamine, possession of manufacturing paraphernalia and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Also arrested on site were Kimberly Danielle Norgaurd, 40, of Valley, and Joseph Adam Sanders, 25, of Opelika. Both Norgaurd and Sanders were charged with the manufacture of a controlled substance, trafficking methamphetamine, possession of manufacture paraphernalia and possession of drug paraphernalia.

All three were transported to the Chambers County Jail.

Saehaesung Alabama cited by OSHA

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a statement this week announcing that auto parts supplier Saehaesung Alabama Inc. was cited for several workplace violations following inspections that occurred last year. The company’s facilities in LaFayette and Andalusia were cited for a total of 10 violations, from which proposed penalties total $102,000. The LaFayette plant was cited for four violations, while the Andalusia plant was cited for six violations.
The violations were found during inspections in June and July at the plant, but the company was informed of the penalties at the end of December.
Saehaesung has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The LaFayette plant will contest the violations as allowed by OSHA and Saehaesung representatives will make their appeal at a January 14 conference.
“Saehaesung acknowledges receipt of citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Commission,” Barry Moody, Director of Human Resources at the LaFayette plant said. “Saehaesung fully cooperated with OSHA’s recent inspection because we are committed to the continued health and safety of its entire workforce. Saehaesung has worked very hard throughout its history to provide a safe work environment for its team members. We have been working continuously on improving Saehaesung’s training programs, encouraging team members to take ownership of safety and ensuring their work environment is safe.
“It is because of these efforts that Saehaesung plans to vigorously contest citations for which it believes there is no factual or legal basis. Although Saehaesung may not agree with each of the citations, Saehaesung will fully cooperate with OSHA to further improve workplace safety. Saehaesung considers its employees as its greatest asset and the health and safety of those employees as its greatest priority.”
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LaFayette City Council approves budget

The LaFayette City Council has finally approved the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, and the most notable addition is that employees that have been working for the city for longer than six-months will receive a two-percent pay raise.

Passing the budget for the fiscal year, which actually began on October 1, has been a difficult task for the council. Finance Committee Chair David Ennis said at the regular council meeting last Monday that numerous committee sessions had been held to try to get the budget out of the red. Previously, the budget had showed a deficit of about $110,000. “Over the last several weeks, City Clerk Louis Davidson has met with department heads to try and trim down expenses,” Ennis said.

Ennis noted that some areas of the budget still needed to be addressed but that the committee wanted to get it passed in order for the employee raises to take effect. He added that the budget could be amended at any time to reflect any needed changes.

At that meeting, Ennis made a motion for unanimous consent to suspend the rules for immediate consideration of the budget resolution. However, Councilman Mike Ellis voted no to the measure, which required the resolution to go through two readings before it could be passed.

The council then approved a motion to approve the first reading of the budget resolution. Ellis again voted against the motion, but it did not require unanimous consent to be approved.

After the meeting, Ellis told The LaFayette Sun that he had no objection with employees receiving pay raises. “I voted no because I asked to be involved in the budget process, but was not,” he said. “We just got it (the budget) last week and to not be included was frustrating.”

When asked if there were specific portions of the budget he found problematic, Ellis pointed to the large percentage of funding allotted to the public safety department and the less than adequate funding for the recreation department.

Because the budget was not passed at the regular meeting, a called meeting was scheduled for Wednesday. At that meeting, the second reading of the budget resolution took place and a formal vote was held. It was unanimously approved by a 5-0 vote; Ellis was not present at the meeting. The council stipulated that the new budget would take effect on Thursday, Dec. 25 so as to coincide with the beginning of a new pay cycle for city employees.

The budget, which does include the two-percent employee raise, projects $8,437,032.32 in expenses for the city and $8,440,332.32 in revenues, leaving a surplus of $3,330.

Some notable proposed expenses for the fiscal year are $907,729.00 for the Police Department, $476,787.96 for the Fire Department, $479,451.12 for the EMS, $289,468.64 for the Street Department, $32,605.60 for animal control, $81,527.68 for city cemeteries, $25,700.00 for recreation, $3,537,244.00 for the Electric Department, 526,755.84 for the water plant, $328,103.79 for water distribution, $380,655.36 for the waste plant, $219,708.95 for waste collection, and $266,152.48 for sanitation.

The budget includes capital outlay expenses totaling $339,000.00. This includes $90,000 for two new police vehicles, $100,000 for a new ambulance, $27,000 for a new roof at the old medical building on Hwy 50, and $50,000 for development of a new city park.

December 31, 2014 | Posted in: Local, News | Comments Closed

Auburn University students to help city with proposed park

LaFayette will be getting a helping hand from students at Auburn University this spring in designing the city’s recreational plan. Elise Cormie, an incoming adjunct professor at Auburn, talked to the City Council about the program at their final meeting of 2014 last week.

Cormie is a landscape architect from the Atlanta firm Smart Landscapes, and she told the council that she would like for one of her classes to work with the city in building upon plans to develop a 52-acre plot of land the city had purchased to use for recreation. Cormie was referred to LaFayette by Charlene LeBleu, an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Auburn’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. LeBleu works with several Alabama municipalities on green infrastructure plans and improvements, and had developed a rough site plan for LaFayette.

Cormie and her 14-student class will build upon those initial ideas to help LaFayette create a recreation plan. “The idea is that the students want to apply their creativity and their thinking to that 52-acres and take that initial idea a little bit further,” Cormie said. “But also in with talking with (City Clerk) Louis Davidson and (Councilman) Mike Ellis, it became clear that LaFayette might need something a little bit larger to develop, maybe a recreation plan with specific ideas about certain elements of that plan.”

The mayor and council were in support of the plan and discussed areas the class could address. Councilwoman Tammie Williams noted that a walking trail was particularly of importance in the planning. Cormie noted the possibility of connecting parts of the city, including the old city park and the new city park as part of the plan, along with addressing the need for athletic fields.

Councilman David Ennis added that development of the 52-acre plot should be a top priority right now, and tying other parts of the city together in the plan could come later.

Costs were also an important part of the discussion with Cormie. “It would be nice to see what is the ideal situation, and then look it in terms of phases and costs and we can pick and choose what is best,” Ennis said.

Mayor Barry Moody reiterated that any plans need to have costs associated with them, which would make it easier to balance need with financial requirements and apply for grants. Moody also recommended that initially Cormie work with the council and the city’s recreational committee starting the program and that down the line there could be a public forum where any LaFayette resident who wanted to offer input could do so.

Cormie said she would be back in touch with the council about getting started.

*For full story see this week’s print edition of The Sun.

Chambers County’s unemployment continues to fall, now at 5.5 percent

Chambers County reached a seven-year best 5.8 percent unemployment rate in the month of October, but the news got even better last Friday when the Alabama Department of Labor announced that the county rate fell even further to 5.5 percent for the month of November.

November’s rate is the lowest Chambers County has had since May of 2007, when the unemployment was 4.8 percent.

The average unemployment rate for Chambers County in 2007 was 5.6 percent, but the county started feeling the effects of the textile plant closures in 2008 when the rate skyrocketed to 12.8 percent. It rose to an average of 17.7 percent in 2009, peaking at 19.1 percent in February of that year.

The county battled through four years of double-digit unemployment rates, before it dropped to 9.0 percent in 2012.

Last month’s rate is the first time since the textile shutdowns that Chambers County has fallen below the 2007 average and signals that the area has finally fully recovered from the massive job losses that occurred.

Chambers County’s November rate represents 797 unemployed individuals compared to October’s when there were 848 unemployed. It’s also below the 912 unemployed in November 2013 when the rate was 6.2 percent.

There were 13,703 employed individuals in November, which is actually less than the October figure of 13,805. This is because the civilian labor force declined from 14,653 in October to 14,500 in November. Chambers County’s civilian labor force was 14,700 in November 2013.

Looking back to May of 2007, Chambers County had a civilian labor force of 15,384 with 14,648 employed individuals and 736 unemployed.

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