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City Council considers broadband services

As technology continues to expand for the present and the future, more cities around the nation are hoping to take advantage of the increased capabilities resulting from this technology, including the City of Andalusia.

The Andalusia Council discussed the possibility of using broadband communication service in the future during its regular meeting Tuesday night.

Councilman Harry Hinson gave a report on a meeting he had attended last week regarding the subject, and said the Rural Utility Services (RUS) has about $20 million in grants that are available for towns with under 20,000 residents.

He said RUS defines broadband transmission as an a minimum of 200 kilobytes per second, both downstream and upstream.

"The one problem for this year is that November 5 is the deadline for submitting an application, and because of the length of the application, it is almost impossible (for the city) to submit it for this year," said Hinson. "It is a grant, though, that has no limit on it if you are selected for one of them. It is really geared for towns of less than 5,000, and those towns have an advantage. The needs are the biggest factor in the application."

He said he feels the city needs to look at the program in the near future and said the 15 percent which the city would be responsible for in such a grant could be through in-times service.

"If you have a building that you could set (the broadband equipment) up in, up to $100,000 would be allowed for that facility," said Hinson. "That can be part of the 15 percent. This is something we really need in our area, or any city needs to attract industry. Those that are familiar with broadband service know that if offers immediate (Internet access) and 200 kilobytes per second is pretty good speed, and that's the minimum. I would suggest we keep (the application) on file and for next year be prepared to look at the application and see where we stand on it."

Mayor Earl Johnson said the subject of broadband service is something that the city's forthcoming new utility board will want to study and perhaps implement.

"We have spoken about this many times since we've taken office, the importance of high-speed broadband capability to our community, and the necessity for it to be competitive and attractive to industry and businesses," said Johnson.

During Tuesday's meeting, the council also opted not to participate at this time in a Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), sponsored by the Employees' Retirement System of Alabama, for its employees.

The council heard from Retirement Executive George R. Frost during its work session preceding the council meeting.

Johnson said the city has been considering the program, which would provide additional benefits for employees who have 25 years of experience with the city or who are at least 55 years of age. Such an employee could continue to work for the city and their retirement benefit would go into a savings account and the employee would have to opt for a minimum of three or a maximum of five years in the program.

"The problem with the system as it applies to the City of Andalusia is that it increases our employer cost from a minimum of $16,000 a year in payroll costs to a maximum of $40,000 per year," said Johnson. "Once you elect to come under the DROP program,

you can't get out. (Frost) said there are approximately 750 agencies that are members of the state retirement system, but only about 70 agencies have joined the DROP program. Less than ten percent of those who could join DROP have joined DROP, although I have heard that the City of Opp joined and the Covington County Commission elected to come under the DROP program."

Johnson said at the current time, he doesn't feel the program would benefit the City of Andalusia, even though it would offer additional benefits to a small number of employees who would actually qualify for the program.

"I think (the program) would disproportionately cost the city money that we could be spending on our other employees as far as additional salary benefits," said Johnson.

In other action taken Tuesday, the Andalusia City Council:

Heard a departmental report from Wastewater Chief Operator Donna Cross. Among the items reported by Cross was the fact that in July a 45-horsepower pump and a 75-horsepower pump were replaced.

Approved an appropriation for a local law enforcement grant. Johnson said the city has received the grant but said the city's matching portion of the grant will be $2,788. The total amount of the grant was $27,884. The money will come out of the city's

FY-2002 contingency fund.

Approved to renew its membership in the American Association of Retirement Communities. Johnson said the organization is headed by Jacksonville State University, with the purpose of the organization to help cities throughout Alabama attract retirees to their communities. The city joined the organization last year and its membership fee is $150 per year. For its membership, the city is put on the organization's web site and the city is entitled to participate in the organization's workshops.

Approved an endorsement for the Conecuh-Sepulga Clean Water Partnership Project. This project involves public and private stakeholders devoted to the protection and improvement of the water quality in the watershed of the Conecuh and Sepulga rivers. The group has been meeting since October of a year ago.

Approved a new recognition program for city employees. Johnson said the city has opted to recognize employees every five years of service to the city. He said pins have been ordered to reflect the number of years served. Hinson noted that the longest current tenured employee with the city is Glenn Worley, who has 33 years of service.

He added that this type of service needs to be recognized.

Approved the appointment of a committee to study the requirements of a for-profit ambulance service for the city. Councilman Mike Jones will head this committee.

Approved funding allotments for the Red Cross ($10,000) and the Andalusia/Opp Airport Authority (approximately $38,000).

The money will come from the FY-2003 budget.

Approved a liquor license for Pepperoni Jack's Restaurant. The restaurant already has a beer and wine license.

Heard an announcement from Johnson, reminding that the city's third-annual Halloween on the Square will be held on Oct. 31 from 5:30-8 p.m. There will be over 200,000 pieces of candy given out and there will also be a Jack 'o Lantern contest. Music will also be provided.

Approved the minutes from

the Oct. 1 meeting.