Florala utilities, city to merge soon

Published 12:02 am Thursday, January 17, 2013

There is a merger in the future for the Florala Utilities Board and the city; however, board members disagreed Wednesday on where the physical location of the office will be.

That decision came after three of the five sitting Florala Utilities Board members voiced their apologies for the board’s mismanagement and poor financial condition.

Board members James Stone, Lorena Bryant and Mayor Robert Williamson each spoke at length during the nearly four-hour, special-called meeting about not questioning illegal procedures and bad accounting practices revealed during a recent audit. That audit came after the board’s longtime manager was arrested on theft charges.

On Tuesday, Chairman Marvin Williford said that a “pro and con” list for merging the daily operations with those at city hall would be presented; however, no such list was given. Instead, board members agreed that the merger should happen, but were split on whether or not to move into city hall. Currently, the board is owner of and operates out of the old Alabama Power building. The board purchased the property when it split operations with the city in 2005.

Earlier this month, Williford, Williamson and Councilwoman Hazel Lee were tasked performing a feasibility student of merging the two entities, which revealed the board could save approximately $12,000 a year in building operation costs.

When one board member – Brian Presley – said he wanted to see a list of the benefits of remaining in their current location, Williamson said, “That doesn’t make logical sense since we can save $12,000 a year. It didn’t make logical sense to buy the building to begin with. So the question, ‘Is do we continue to do things that are illogical just because we’ve always done them that way?’

“For years, there’s been a ‘them’ versus ‘us’ mentality between the utility board and the city,” he said. “And it would go a long way to bringing unity for things to come back together.”

“I just think I need to study it more,” Presley said. Williford did not speak voice his opinion on the move.

Stone said it was past time for the board to “do something” before initiating the motion to merge the two entities.

“We can’t keep on doing what we’re doing,” Stone said. “We’re going down. I don’t know how things split and I don’t need to know, but we can’t keep doing business as usual. We are in trouble, and every one of us was negligent all this time.

“We’re broken to the core, so let’s fix it,” he said.

Williamson and Bryant agreed with Stone’s comments.

The board also agreed to consult its attorney to discuss the legal issues with the move; however, no date was given as to when the board hoped to have the new measures in place.