2014: A plan for progress
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 1, 2014
The New Year has arrived, and with it comes new resolutions, for municipalities, as well as for individuals.
The Star-News asked the heads of local governments about what is on the horizon in 2014.
Mayor Earl Johnson knows that 2014 will be a busy one for the City of Andalusia.
“I hope that we are well into the South Three Notch Street renovation project in 2014,” he said. “I don’t expect it to be completed in 2014, but I hope that we are up and going by the middle of the year.”
In 2013, the city received an $8.6 million grant to rework all of South Three Notch.
The city also will continue to work to attract new jobs, and to improve quality of life here, he said.
“We’ve got several industrial prospect we’re working with,” Johnson said. “We have one Korean prospect and another stateside prospect we’d love to see come to fruition in ‘14.”
Working with developers to provide short-term housing to help bring people to the city is another goal, as is improving entertainment options.
“We have other retail/entertainment/dining prospects we’re working with,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked about creating a dining and entertainment district. By doing that, we will have other tools to help make Andalusia more appealing to investors.”
Another huge project will be the completion of construction projects at Andalusia Elementary School and Andalusia High School. It is expected that the new sixth grade wing at AES will be ready when school starts in the fall, and that seventh and eighth graders will move to the high school at the semester break of the 2014-15 school year.
“I see these two projects as game changers for our city,” he said.
Growth elsewhere in the state can mean big things for Andalusia, too, he said.
“We’ve got to do something to help generate more skilled craftsmen in our community, particularly respective to aviation, if we expect to try to participate in growth that comes about because of the new plant in Mobile,” he said
“There is still talk about Hyundai doubling its size; makes sense they’d do it where they are.
“If they do that, it certainly will have an impact on SaeHaeSung and other automotive industries in state, which could mean more opportunities in Andalusia.”
“We have a lot to look forward to in 2014,” the mayor said. “If we can get half of those completed, that will be a lot.”
Opp Mayor John Bartholomew said his city has high hopes for 2014, with an ambitious slate of projects on the horizon.
“We’re excited about 2014, because we have been working through all of 2013 to lay down the foundation for programs we will be implementing (this year),” Bartholomew said.
Those projects, he said, include an extension of the city’s sewer system into the northern part of town; the paving of roads from Main Street to the bypass; a new swimming pool; and the construction of secondary road to the bypass meant to prepare the way for a commercial construction project.
“We have been working on all of our programs, and now we are going to accomplish what we set out to,” Bartholomew said.
Sanford Mayor Christopher Thomasson said big plans are also on the verge of becoming a reality for his town in the New Year.
“We’re going to build a new city hall/community center,” Thomasson said. “It will be the first municipal offices we’ve ever had.”
Thomasson said a new water tower is also planned for 2014 – a project he hopes will help attract new businesses.
“We’ve purchased land and are pursuing other businesses as well,” Thomasson said. “The J.M. Jackson dealership (relocated to Sanford in 2013) helped us out tremendously. They’ve been a great addition to Sanford. We also have three lots that will be for sale to businesses. We’re in the process of clearing those right now.”
For the town of River Falls, 2013 was a year of progress, and 2014 should follow suit, Mayor Patricia Gunter said.
It could also mean an increase in residents’ monthly water bills, Gunter said.
Grant funds helped to secure a new pavilion next to town hall, and this year, residents will see even more improvements – “hopefully.”
“We hope work on the pavilion will begin in the spring, as well as the paving of some roads,” Gunter said. “We are also applying for a grant to upgrade to radio read water meters. We have repaired some major leaks this year and continue to work on the water system.
“We know it was a somewhat painful experience for residents in getting the water arrearages up to date, but they worked with us, and we made outstanding progress on that situation,” she said, speaking of the settling the town’s water billing system after the arrest of the town’s mayor for theft in 2012.
Gunter said the town has purchased new billing software to upgrade the system.
“Our water rates are the lowest in the county – probably in the state – and we would love to keep it that way, but it is really not feasible,” she said. “Alabama Rural Water is preparing a rate study for us and we will probably be adopting new rates sometime in 2014.”
Beautification is the mission for Gantt in 2014, said Mayor Melissa “Missy” Grissett.
To do that, the town is currently pursuing a number of grants to benefit the town’s 200-plus households, she said.
“Gantt is in a unique situation, with the lake right here,” Grissett said. “We’d like to continue to build our community around that lake feeling. A lot of people like living in a small town. I know I do, and that’s how we want to keep it.”
Grissett said the town is working to fix the town’s drainage ditches, improve the look of the city streets and continue to foster a good working relationship among city council members.
“We are all proud that we’re running a city government that is no longer feuding,” she said, speaking of years of strife between the town’s pasty mayor and council. “The town prospers without all that negativity. We’ve come a long way, and we still have a long way to go, but we’re going to get there.”
After the closure of its local hospital, 2014 will be a year of big change in Florala.
Mayor Robert Williamson said
On Dec. 27, the news came that would impact every single person in city of 2,000 – the closure of Florala Memorial Hospital.
As of Tuesday, Williamson and the city council were focusing their efforts on re-opening the facility.
“(The owner) told me it was about pure economics,” Williamson said. “We understand that. It’s a job now to figure out what to do get health care back in Florala.”
At present, there is at least one licensed physician and another nurse practioner in Florala.
For emergency care, residents must travel to the closest hospital, which could be in Opp, Andalusia or Crestview, Fla.
“We’re looking right now at the terms of the Certificate of Need to see if someone can re-open the hospital,” Williamson said. “From there, we’ll just work toward the future. It’s all we can do.”