Lanett District 3 Residents Get Questions Answered

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, March 19, 2024

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LANETT — Residents of District 3 had an opportunity to ask all kinds of questions to their mayor and council members late Thursday afternoon at the Jane Farrar Event Center in downtown Lanett. The question and answer session lasted more than an hour with many participants receiving responses not only from Mayor Jamie Heard and Council Member Ronnie Tucker but also from Police Chief Denise McCain, Electrical Department Superintendent Allen Summers and Code Enforcement Officer Johnny Wood.

Some residents complained of street lights being out and in need of replacement. One woman present told city officials that a light that had been out on Cherry Drive had recently been replaced and thanked them for taking care of it. Other District 3 residents brought up other lights that needed to be replaced, one of them being in the parking lot in front of the Cherry Valley Shopping Center. One person present said it constantly flickered like a strobe light and was distracting to night-time drivers.

One District 3 resident said that North 4th Street behind Langley Motor Company was extremely rough and was anything going to be done about it.

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Mayor Heard said the street was on the paving list and would be resurfaced following some work that’s been going on at the Holy Family Catholic Church.

Someone asked if the city had a leash law for dogs. Johnny Wood, a former police chief, said the city does have such an ordinance. He said it requires anyone who is walking their dog to have it on a leash, Any dog that’s outside must either be inside a fenced-in yard or on a leash.

A District 3 resident asked how much of the work that’s taken place at the airport had been paid for by the city. It wasn’t a hostile question but something out of curiosity.

Most funding for airport-related projects comes from the federal government through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Since 2018, somewhere between $15 million and $20 million has been spent there on building a new runway and terminal and improvements to the taxiway and apron. Ninety percent of this is provided by the FAA with the remaining 10 percent split between the state and city. The city can provide in-kind work to help cover its five percent share.

Mayor Heard said the city was in a position to derive income from the airport through fuel sales and the rental of hangar space.

“I live in Lanett, and I don’t see how it benefits our town,” one person said. “Are we closer to naming a replacement of our former airport manager, Richard Carter?”

Mayor Heard said he had interviewed three candidates and would report on how things stood at the next council meeting.

A Spring Road resident told the mayor that there had been a worsening problem with an overflowing sewer line in his neighborhood and asked if someone from the city could look at it.

The mayor said it would be taken care of.

Another person asked about junk vehicles sitting in people’s yards.

Code Enforcement Officer Wood said that every vehicle had to have a current tag and insurance to be legal. “I know this is a large issue around the city,” he said. “It’s a difficult problem for us.”

Wood added that the city is in pretty good shape overall. “We have 226 new businesses in Lanett over the past two-and-a-half years,” he said. “We have brought in over $430,000 in business licenses this year.”

One person said there was a pothole that needed to be repaired on North 11th Avenue and that there was a problem with cars driving too fast on that street.

Fast driving on the street isn’t new. For years the street has been widely known as Thrill Hill.

“What can we do about it?” they asked.

Wood said he would come out there to meet with the complainant and see what can be done.

“If the police pulled over everyone who was driving their car while talking on a cell phone and fined them $25 I think we would make enough money to pave every road in the city,” one person said.

That comment made in jest drew some laughter from the crowd.

Mayor Heard said the city does have a problem with both junk vehicles and dilapidated housing.

Wood explained the process of taking down an abandoned house. “We have to do this according to state law,” he said. “It takes time to do that. You have to notify the property owner before you can do anything and give them 45 days to act on their own.”

If the owner doesn’t act in that time frame, the city can move to tear down the house, clean up the lot, and place a lien on the property to recover its cost.

“We have to do something about removing these abandoned houses,” a woman present said. “Some people won’t come here to live because of such housing being here.”

Another woman complained of a natural gas smell on one street she drives on. Allen Summers asked her where it was and she told him it was along First Street.

Summers told her there’s an aging cast-iron natural gas line there and the city gas department has had to make some repairs there. In 2023, Lanett was one of few Alabama cities that were approved for a major grant to make some much-needed, major repairs to their gas system. Lanett was approved by a grant of more than $4 million to do this.

“We are hoping the money gets released this spring and we can get started with this project,” he said.

One person complained of a large “We’re open” sign sitting next to Highway 29 in Lanett near Exit 79 on I-85.

It was explained to them that the sign was up on a temporary basis. It’s in front of a motel that will soon become an affiliate with Days Inn and some new corporate signs will be going up.

There has been lots of sprucing up inside the building in recent weeks.

One person asked about what was going on at the orange house across from Kroger on Gilmer Avenue. They complained that it was in a high-traffic area and that it had looked unsightly to have had the front porch loosely covered with plastic this winter. Wood said the building is being remodeled into a restaurant. The owner presently has an orange food truck that’s been in business in the local area.

“What about the signs in front of CVS? They are so tacky.” another person said.

Wood said such signs were allowed as long as CVS permitted it and they were temporary.

“There’s no ordinance allowing us to remove such signs,” Wood said.

A man present said the tornado warning siren on North 14th Street wasn’t working. “When it’s tested on the first Saturday of the month, it spins like it’s supposed to but there’s no sound coming from it,” he said.

Mayor Heard said he would talk to Fire & EMS Chief Johnny Allen about it.

Restoration Committee member Martha Scott said a cleanup day is being planned for Saturday, April 6th and anyone is welcome to take part.

Someone said they’d like to see a recycling day take place in Lanett. Valley has such a day during its annual Cleanup Week in April. City residents can bring old tires and unwanted electronic items for proper disposal.

A woman who lives in District 3 said she had a hard time understanding why her monthly utility bill went from around $200 one month to almost $600 the next month. “I’ve heard other people talk about having high utility bills, too,” she said.

Summers said that he had gone to her house at her request to see if there was anything wrong with the meters that recorded her utility usage. He said that the meters were working the way they were supposed to. January was a cold month, he said, explaining that she must have used more electricity and natural gas than in previous months.

Mayor Heard said that Lanett has a levelized billing plan that will allow city utility users who ask to be on the plan to portion out their bills over the course of the year. Instead of having to pay $600 one month, they can pay it in installments of maybe an extra $50 a month until it’s paid in full. “We have around 100 people on a payment plan,” he said. “We understand that the bills can be high in cold months. We work with people to help them pay for it in a way that can ease this burden for them.”

One person asked if the city could have more traffic stops to look for those who are bringing illegal drugs into the city. “If people know they will be checked out if they come here they may not want to,” they said.

Chief McCain said that it’s difficult to undertake such procedures right now because Lanett is down four officers right now. It’s difficult to keep certified officers for long, she said, because they leave for other police departments that can offer higher pay.

“I appreciate all you do to make our city safe,” one man told her.

McCain said there’s a problem now with youthful offenders. In some cases, they have been accused of committing a violent crime and get slapped on the wrist and sent back to their parents. There was one incident, she said, where such an offender was arrested for a crime, then released by juvenile authorities only to commit another crime with a different gun.

To questions about the need for more street paving, Mayor Heard said that there are streets in need of paving all across the city. “We can’t fix them all at once,” he said. “We have to do it in phases.”

“Lanett is an old city,” said Council Member Tucker. “There are streets and pipes in the ground that need work. When it comes to police officers, we have to compete with other cities to keep them. It seems like every time we give a raise a surrounding city will top it. Running a city is like running any business. You have to compete to keep good people.”

One woman said it was her understating that the city is considering getting a system where cameras will be positioned in key places in the city to help deter crime. “I think it would be good to have this if it helps keep people from doing things they shouldn’t be doing,” she said.

A police officer present said that public safety is at the mercy of the juvenile court system. What to do with an underage person who commits a crime is up to a juvenile protection officer. It’s only when a second serious crime is committed that it goes to the court system.

“Maybe the parents should be locked up for what their kids do,” said one woman.

Mayor Heard said the city is trying to look for activities young people can do to steer them away from criminal acts. “We don’t want them to become gang members,” he said.

Heard thanked everyone for coming to the district meeting. It’s the third one that’s taken place this year. The previous meetings were for Districts 1 and 2. There will be meetings in the coming weeks for Districts 4 and 5.

“If you have a problem you can call me at city hall anytime,” he said.