The City of New Albany honored its retired fire chief and learned about the increasing popularity of the renovated community center at the May board meeting Tuesday.
Mayor Tim Kent presented a plaque and key to the city to retired fire chief Steve Coker. Coker retired this past year but Kent said the presentation had been delayed due to COVID concerns.
The mayor read from the plaque that said in part, “To Steve Coker for outstanding service and dedication to our community and thanks for making a difference.”
“In my years I’ve learned to give it (the key to the city) to people who have made a difference and you definitely have made a difference for our city,” he said.
“I miss it every day,” Coker said. “There’s some of the things I don’t miss having to deal with but, overall, the job we did, getting to work with you guys and girls – ladies, I had a great job, a great bunch of people to work with and I appreciate it.”
In community development, assistant Tracey Vainisi presented a proposed change in the community center rental agreement.
The plan would offer two rental periods, from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 4:30 to 11 p.m. This would provide more opportunities to rent the building but people could still rent for the whole day with a discount on the combined price. The same use regulations would apply.
Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud said, “There is a lot of interest in the community center.” She added that, so far, people are taking care of the building when they use it.
They are hoping to win a match-free $50,000 grant that would provide more improvements to the community center block, which is seeing increased use as a whole.
Vainisi said progress is being made on improving the Alabama Street park following a public meeting with those who live in the area.
A $15,000 grant plus a $10,000 match from the city will allow purchase of a large piece of climbing playground equipment and the existing equipment will be sandblasted and painted. Vainisi said she is looking into self-contained splash pads that could be installed and maintained by the city.
They stressed the importance of keeping the park a neighborhood park where users would walk rather than drive to it. They also said some special events will be planned to raise awareness of the park improvements and purpose.
A public hearing was held Tuesday on a zoning request by Mary Harrison to change 315 East Bankhead Street from R-2 residential to C-2 commercial.
No one was present to object and the change was recommended by the planning and zoning board so it was approved. The house will be renovated to become a retail business.
Union County Heritage Museum Director Jill Smith reported that the museum is “back in business,” although they have provided activities and programs throughout the pandemic.
Upcoming events include the Sporting Life permanent exhibit that will focus on all Union County sports-related activities. She said they should be able to see the final exhibit design next week.
A recent on-going program about once a week is Beyond the Tracks, which features area musicians and storytellers. The programs can be attended live, viewed live on Facebook or viewed later.
Coming up is an exhibit that will include 81 guitars from the collection of late attorney and musician Steve Livingston.
In departmental business, light, gas and water manager Bill Mattox received approval for a pay request for KAJACS Construction in the amount of $201,823.26. This is for the wastewater treatment plant under construction north of the city. Mattox said work was still on track and the facility should be ready in August or September.
Aldermen accepted a low bid of $220,550 from Siemens Energy for new voltage regulators. This will be part of a substation upgrade to improve service to the downtown area.
Finally, Mattox got approval to purchase a bucket truck for the electric department. The truck will cost $228,402 and come from Altec.
In planning and zoning, zoning administrator Eric Thomas reported that the planning and zoning board had approved a request from Younique LLC for a variance on lot size.
They approved dividing a large lot into two smaller lots, and then giving conditional permits to build duplexes on the two now-substandard lots.
In an unusual situation, aldermen approved a $1,431,785.40 bid by Hill Construction Company to make repairs and improvements to the industrial building most recently used by furniture maker Emerald Mississippi.
Now the building is being used by Fusion Incorporated, also a furniture manufacturer and a part of Southern Motion’s company.
The move was unusual because the building technically owned by Union County. The county was unable to apply for a grant to pay for the cost because the county’s audit was not up to date; however, it was the State of Mississippi’s job to perform the delinquent audit. New Albany was allowed to apply for the Community Development Block Grant for the county.
Because of cost and funding concerns, the bid had been broken into parts with the option of accepting the base bid plus any combination of other parts.
The grant is for $1.5 million so the bid was accepted pending approval from the Mississippi Development Authority.
Major repairs are needed for the roof and a truck parking area is needed with smaller other improvements on the list.
In general business, Mayor Kent told aldermen that paving on Moss Hill Drive is scheduled to start May 22. City officials are also making contact with some contractors recommended for performing smaller paving and patching jobs.
Also, the final contract was signed for the replacement of all city streetlights with new LED fixtures. Although the initial cost will be high, the project will pay for itself in energy savings, longevity and reduced maintenance.
Light, gas and water manager Mattox said it will take ten to 12 weeks to get the material and a couple of months for the replacements so the project should be complete later this summer.
Before adjourning, the board met in executive session to consider utility easements. No action was reported.
Members of Boy Scout Troop 17, sponsored by First United Methodist Church, attended the board meeting as part of efforts to earn badges in communications.