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By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
During its May meeting, with all members present, the Rockford Town Council approved three action items on its agenda, with other matters being for informational purposes only.
The council unanimously approved adding one item to its agenda after Mayor Scott White mentioned having received information from the Alabama Department of Transportation, or ALDOT, regarding the 4-way stop in downtown Rockford. White presented the information to the council for a vote.
In a letter dated May 4 from ALDOT to the Town of Rockford, ALDOT stated that its office will plan to install flashing beacons along Alabama Highway 21 on the northbound and southbound lanes “attached to signage that is warning of the stop condition ahead at the intersection of Alabama highways 22 and 21.”
The cost to the town is $3,500 total, which is half of the cost, with ALDOT covering the remainder. In the letter ALDOT stated it would procure and install the flashing beacons.
ALDOT explained in the letter that in order to complete the project, the town would need to have a power service drop installed in each direction and complete a maintenance agreement for the two beacons.
ALDOT further stated that in addition to installing the flashing beacon warning devices, the department will soon be completing “pavement stripe hatching in the northwest, northeast and southeast quadrants” of the intersection.
The letter went on to state that, “This is needed to allow clearance of sight triangles so that traffic waiting at the stop lines at the intersection are able to see, without obstructions, traffic approaching the intersection from the other directions By providing clear sight triangles, drivers are able to have full view to observe other approaching vehicles that may be traveling at a high rate of speed and not preparing to stop.”
After reviewing the information and having some discussion, the council unanimously approved proceeding with the flashing beacon lights and the town paying $3,500 toward the project.
In other business, White stated that Police Chief George Fanning would reach the end of his 6-month probation period the week following the meeting and said he wanted to go ahead and speak on that and provide a 6-month review for Fanning.
White said that Fanning is doing a “great job” and that the town appreciates his hard work. He added that the department is moving forward and stated that he wanted to discuss a possible pay raise, mentioning that they want to retain workers.
White said that Fanning was currently making $19 per hour and that he recommended a raise of $1.50 per hour.
After brief discussion, with Councilmember Shirley Ogle also commending the work Fanning has done, the council unanimously approved the $1.50 per hour raise.
In other action items, the meeting agenda included ordinances, which was to “address those brought up last month” during the April meeting. The council unanimously approved accepting the revised ordinances to update or remove outdated language.
In non-action business, “animal shelter” was also on the agenda for the May meeting, with White stating that he just wanted to fill the council in on the animal shelter, which closed at the beginning of March. He proceeded to ask town attorney Tom Young to address the matter.
Young said that there had been some confusion and that he wanted to make sure they were clear.
“We were presented a business plan by an individual who said that we were going to get certain services in the form of an animal shelter, and it didn’t come to fruition. Didn’t do it,” Young said. “I advised the town as legal counsel that we are tasked with being stewards of the taxpayers’ money. That accountability involved, also, our responsibility to go and retrieve money for services that we didn’t get.”
White had authorized Young to write a letter to Dennis Hill, former operations manager and chair of the animal shelter, requesting the town’s $5,000 donation back.
“We became aware that the county was reimbursed by Mr. Hill every nickel that they got, and that’s nice, more power to the county on that,” Young said. “But the Town of Rockford ought not be treated any differently in trying to retrieve our money.”
As such, he said that he wrote the letter and requested the town’s donation back.
“I hear these things about this is personal money and all that, fine. That’s not our issue,” Young said. “This is not Uncle Joe giving me $5 for the weekend. This is taxpayer money. We’re tasked to go back and get it. We’ve asked for it back. We’ve got $1,500 back.”
He added, “Now those that talk about not pursuing it because it’s somebody’s personal money, it’s also worth noting that they got other things as in-kind exchanges in the form of security lights and that kind of thing. We didn’t get that. We didn’t get a total reimbursement like the county got. We didn’t get security lights. We didn’t get all these other things to make up for that donation. So we requested our money, and I think legally we are bound to do that.”
Young was referencing the Town of Kellyton, which during its May 2 meeting discussed the town’s donation to the animal shelter and potential reimbursement. However, after discussion, the Kellyton Town Council unanimously approved not seeking reimbursement from Hill personally and to instead wait and see what the County Commission plans to do as far as reimbursing the towns.
Young was also referencing a letter Hill sent the town, dated April 14, in which Hill wrote, “Having received your request for reimbursement of your $5,000 donation made to the Coosa County Animal Shelter, I am enclosing a personal check for $1,500 to serve at least as a partial reimbursement. As we stated in the county paper and reiterated at the March County Commission meeting, it is my desire and plan to repay this donation in full later this year as funding becomes available.”
The letter noted that the shelter only had enough funds in its checking account to pay monthly bills and to assure care for the dogs that remained at the shelter at that time.
Hill’s letter further stated that in March Mayor Johnny Sharpe of Kellyton received a sign and two security lights of $1,500 total value as partial reimbursement for Kellyton’s donation. However, Kellyton did not request the equipment as reimbursement, with Hill giving those items to the town to extend his appreciation for the town being the first to donate to the shelter when it was initially raising funds.
The letter further stated that Rockford and Goodwater were both receiving $1,500 personal checks from him as partial reimbursement.
“It is hoped monies will be made available for further reimbursement should we be able to sell the kennel fronts in the coming months,” Hill wrote in the letter. “It was with gratitude to the Rockford Town Council that your donation was accepted, and it is with our gratitude and apologies that we attempt to refund that donation.”
In further discussion, Young went on to state, “It is my legal opinion for the council that we owe the taxpayers an effort, which we have extended, to retrieve their tax dollars for services that we never received, and that’s what we did. I wanted to be clear about that since I had written a letter on behalf of the Town of Rockford. I hate the circumstances for him, but that’s not my concern, and that’s not the council’s concern. Our concern is protecting the taxpayers’ money that they pay us every month in the form of whatever, protecting that money of theirs and using it wisely. I think what we have done, as a result of the mandate to me from the council, has been go and let’s get this money back in our coffers so that we can use it for something that is meaningful for the taxpayers. That’s what we have done. I want to be clear about that. I know there are a lot of feelings about somebody having to use personal funds, and I hate it, but our funds went out, we didn’t get services, and we need to get them back.”
The town initially approved the $5,000 donation to the animal shelter during its August 16, 2022, meeting, with the donation being made from the town’s American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds.
The county’s other two municipalities also each approved $5,000 donations to the shelter, and lastly the County Commission had approved a $30,000 donation to the shelter, also from its ARPA funds.
In an open letter to the county and its citizens that was printed in the February 24, 2022, edition, Hill stated that, “All monies raised to date with the exception of the $30,000 ARPA money provided by the county went into the building and the assets within the building (approximately $48,000). There are no outstanding debts. …Available monies in [the] checking account totaling approximately $30,000 will be turned over to the county in March, and it is my hope that the townships of Kellyton, Goodwater and Rockford can be reimbursed their $5,000 each at that point.”
In a follow-up interview, Hill further stated that at the time the decision was made to close the shelter, it had $30,000 remaining in funds, with other funding having been used for the building and operation expenses.
In continuing to address the matter at the Rockford Town Council meeting, Young further stated, “The county, more power to them, the county got all theirs back, and they elected to prioritize that. I’m not being critical, but why should we expect any less treatment than the county or anybody else got in getting this money back? I don’t think we’re in a lesser… That’s still taxpayer money over across the street, the county. It’s taxpayer money here. It’s taxpayer money in Goodwater. It’s taxpayer wherever. We’ve got to protect that. That’s one reason the town wrote the letter it did, and we are still going to be expecting the remainder of our money.”
Following Young’s information and addressing the subject, Mayor White added that, “Basically what he [Hill] did was wrote the $1,500 out of his personal funds because he gave the other municipality, Kellyton, security cameras and some lights totaling $1,500 in value. So the county received theirs back, and then that town received funds as equipment. Just wanted y’all to be aware.”
Also during its meeting, the Town Council dismissed into executive session for approximately 20 minutes to discuss the good name and character of a town employee. No action was taken regarding the matter after returning to open session.
The next regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Rockford Town Council will be held at 6 p.m. June 20.