Lanett approves city budget

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, September 20, 2023

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LANETT — The Lanett City Council on Monday approved a $20,5 million operating budget for fiscal year 2023-24, which starts on October 1st.

The spending plan was approved in a unanimous vote. It includes a two percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the city 124 employees.

There’s no money for new vehicles in the budget. In the current budget, which expires on September 30th, the police department got two new vehicles and the Street Department got three new trucks. The five new vehicles were picked up in the past few weeks.

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Mayor Jamie Heard said that there’s money in the budget for continued street paving and for water, sewer and gas improvements.

The city recently was awarded a $4 million federal grant to make some needed upgrades in its natural gas system. At Monday’s meeting, the council approved contracts for Gas Meter Engineers, Inc. to serve as the project engineer and Byard Consulting LLC (d.b.a. Sara Byard Consulting) to provide grant administration services.

The grant is being provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The grant requires a tier 2 environment assessment and a plan to design and oversee the replacement of the city’s aging cast iron pipes that have been delivering natural gas for years.

For some time now, the city has had a low income home energy assistance program administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). The program is desisted to help low income people with their cooling bills in the summer and their heating bills in winter. This program has been covering the summer months and on Monday was renewed for the winter  months. This will to through next March and will be up for renewal at that time.

At Monday’s meeting, the council approved the city’s participation in the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program. This will help low income residents with their monthly water bills.

The council suspended the rules and adopted on a first reading an ordinance setting the prices for the purchase of grave lots in the newly expanded Pine Hill Cemetery in the West Shawmut neighborhood. The original portion of the cemetery is at full capacity. The final lot was sold on Monday. The Street Department has been working on the new expansion in recent days. Some new roads through the site will be paved this week.

The rates for Pine Hill grave sites will be the same as they are at Hillcrest. The lots at both cemeteries are sold in pairs. For city residents it’s $400 for a two-grave site. For those who live outside the city it’s $800 for a two-grave site.

Mayor Heard said he was pleased with the work being done at Pine Hill by the city’s Street Department. This will make available 1,600 new grave sites in a very quiet, serene place.

Work has been planned for some similar improvements at Hillcrest.

The council declared some items surplus equipment for the Lanett Recreation Department. The list includes some outdated football helmets and shoulder pads. They an now be disposed of according to established city policy and state law.

They can be sold to anyone who wants to buy it.

An off premises retail beer license and an off premises retail table wine license was approved for Eagles Investments Lanett, Inc. This is for the former Circle K store located near the junction of First Street and Gilmer Avenue. The owner is Ali Mohammed Nasher, who was born in Yemen but now lives in Hoover, Alabama. The application was cleared by the Lanett Police Department.

In a work session that preceded the regular meeting, discussion took place regarding the council’s recent decision to abolish its police jurisdiction. This came about due to a controversial new law that required 128 Alabama cities to give up collecting taxes in these jurisdictions. Lanett is projected to lose an estimated $600,000 a year because of this. In compliance with the new law, Lanett stopped collecting this tax on June 1.

According to City Attorney Stanley Gray, a two-and-a-half percent tax that had been collected to pay for police protection has gone away. In effect, these people will be getting police protection for free while no one else is.

Gray said it’s his understanding that the county won’t be picking up the two-and-a-half percent for taking over what Lanett has previously done. These businesses were paying the ten percent rate on sales tax. It’s now dropped to seven-and-a-half percent.

Gray told the council it had few options in dealing with this. The deadline for full compliance is October 1st.

Fire & EMS Chief Johnny Allen said that Lanett had been running three patrols in its police jurisdiction. The Chambers County Sheriff’s Office had been running two patrols over a much bigger area.

A member of the council asked if LPD was still receiving calls from outside the city. Patrol Commander Richard Casner said that an estimated 25 percent of the calls were coming from outside.

“We will still assist when it comes to emergencies,” Casner said.

Allen said the way he understands it, Lanett police shouldn’t be providing service to any areas outside the city. This includes Riverside Estates and the row of stores between Sandy’s Service Center and Bell’s Collision, which are in the former Lanett Bleachery & Dye Works/Lanett Mill industrial park.

Allen said the Lanett EMS covers a broad area in the eastern half of the county, extending to the Randolph County line. The city has a contract with the county to do this. The City of LaFayette has a similar contract for the western half of the county. Allen suggested that a similar solution could be there for police protection. Lanett could contract with the county to do this and to keep from overburdening the sheriff’s office.

Code Enforcement Officer Johnny Wood updated the council on some weed enforcement that has recently taken place.

“We have gotten some good cooperation from the citizens,” the said. “Of the 39 properties we listed for possible action, all but seven of the property owners acted on their own to have their lots cleaned up.”

The seven property owners who did not comply will have liens placed on their lots. This will help the city recover the costs of cutting the grass.

Wood told the council the city had recently received some property on North 4th Avenue near the Holy Family Catholic Church. “It’s a pretty big lot with a house on it,” he said. “The house needs to have a new roof. We could also use it in a training exercise.”