PIEDMONT – In its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Piedmont City Council passed a pair of resolutions and Mayor Bill Baker re- appointed a Piedmont Housing Authority board member, but the main topic of discussion was the city’s fire hydrants.
District 2 councilman Richard Williams brought up the topic during the work session, asking how hydrants were tracked for working order.
“What we did recently, within the last six months, we had our fire department go out and check our fire hydrants,” Baker said. “If there are some that are not working, we had them bagged. We had (Piedmont Fire Chief) Mike Ledbetter get a list of all these fire hydrants that are not working properly. Some of them are minor leaks. Some of them are a little more serious. That list was given to Byrian Watts, supervisor of water, gas and sewer. The city clerk (Carl Hinton) and myself talked with Byrian Watts. We told him we wanted regular maintenance on fire hydrants. We want a report each month so we can see that these fire hydrants are being repaired.”
Baker went on to mention that he has questioned whether fire tax money could be used to pay for fire hydrant repairs. He was told the city could not use the money for that purpose.
“This went through the League of Municipalities,” Baker said. “We cannot use fire tax money, and I don’t understand why not. The fire hydrants actually fall under our water department, not the fire department, even though the fire department uses them to put out fires. In talking with Byrian (on Tuesday), we’ve got to get serious about this. We’ve got to get these repaired.
“Some of the work is extensive. I think there’s a total of 25 fire hydrants that need some attention soon. Some are more serious. Mike has assured me that never have we been in danger of not being able to put out a fire because there aren’t working fire hydrants, and we have the pumper truck, but I don’t want to take that chance on that one time we’re not able to get a house fire put out because there’s not a working fire hydrant nearby. We’re going to get this problem fixed. We’re going to get them repaired.”
Baker said he was going to check again on using fire tax funds for hydrant repairs.
“We won’t do it illegally, but if we were able to do that, we could get a whole lot more repaired with (fire tax) money and our city budget money,” he said. “I have a mayor’s roundtable meeting coming up. While I have all the mayors together, I’ll ask them what they’re doing with fire hydrant repairs, if they’re using any of their fire tax money, and if so, how they are doing this legally.
“I’m not trying to take Mike’s money away, but if he gets money every month, it’s all city money and we need to take care of our citizens.”
Ledbetter addressed the council following Baker’s initial remarks on the matter.
“There’s been a number of rumors in this city over the weekend that we let a house burn because we didn’t have water. That is totally incorrect,” Ledbetter said. “We had plenty of water. We put 600-foot of supply hose on the ground. We had plenty of water to handle what we had to handle. We are working on an investigation to determine what caused that fire, but we had more than enough water.”
Ledbetter said he applauded “100 percent” to start a schedule to repair hydrants.
“Everybody thinks we own the fire hydrants. Everybody thinks we’re totally responsible for maintaining them and so forth. Yeah, we use them if we have a fire. Yes, we go out every year as a courtesy and we test them. We grease the caps and oil them and do that so the water department doesn’t have to. It helps us to familiarize ourselves where they’re at and update the books on where they’re at, but they still belong to the water department,” Ledbetter said.
In council action, minutes from the previous meeting were also approved, as were bills for payment in the amount of 513,964.69.
Baker approved Walter Prater’s re-appointment on the Piedmont Housing Authority board. Prater’s term was set to expire on March 31.
The council also passed a resolution regarding the conversion of personal leave time to sick leave in an effort to prevent abuse of the system. Hinton explained under a previous administration a resolution was passed that amended the process from the original city personnel handbook.
“They added a sentence that said an employee, upon their anniversary date, may transfer any annual compensatory or personal leave time to sick leave at the current conversion rate,” Hinton said. “Let’s say a guy had been here one year. He gets five days of vacation. He would go on his anniversary date and say I want to convert those five days of vacation to 15 days of sick (time). The intent of this whole thing was for retirement only. Ninety days after retirement is when you convert all the time. They added this separate line that says an employee upon anniversary could convert any of those times. Basically what we’re trying to do is we think it would be best to go back to what the book showed.”
At the request of Bob Rogers, the council passed a resolution allowing a foot bridge be constructed connecting the Ladiga Trail to the former Piedmont Family Practice Building, as long as it meets the city’s requirements. The construction of the bridge will be at Rogers’ expense.
Hinton said Rogers owns several buildings around the former medical clinic that he plans to convert to a bed and breakfast.
In council reports, District 6 representative David Ivey mentioned Piedmont Arts and Entertainment committee member Ashley Jones had shared an email from Lowe’s Home Improvement concerning its hometown grant projects.
“Lowe’s is undertaking up to 100 projects for communities,” Ivey said. “They started the program last year and found there were three projects approved from the state of Alabama last year. Thirty five of the 100 projects approved were for community centers. We were talking just the other week about repairs that the civic center needs. I think that would be a good opportunity to at least go for a grant and see if we can fund the renovation of it. It’s up to $50,000.”
The deadline for the grant is March 28.
“We can make an application for that and see what we can get,” Baker said. “All they can do is tell us no, but they might tell us yes.”
Speaking of the civic center, Baker said the council’s next meeting on April 5 would be there. The council planned to meet at the civic center during Tuesday’s meeting, but two council members (Jubal Feazell and Caleb Pope) were out of town. The purpose of the meeting at the civic center is to see some of the areas there that need attention. The council also plans on doing the same thing at the Bethune Center.
The meeting on April 5 is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
Before adjourning, the council heard from several citizens, including former District 1 councilman Ben Keller, who voiced their concerns about the rising cost of their utility bills.
“How in world has everybody’s light bill gone up this month?,” Keller said. “Some people aren’t burning gas. Some people aren’t burning that much electricity. I’m burning about the same amount of electricity that I’ve been burning all the time. I burn wood, but mine jumped up there too. It was $510.
“We’ve got some older people set on one rate. They can’t even get their medicine because they’re trying to pay to stay warm.”
Baker said he felt the citizens’ pain.
“I think we’re all feeling the pinch right now with utilities as a whole. I’m on a fixed income too,” Baker said. “Mine went up. I’m sure everybody’s has gone up. I know our Alabama Power customers are telling me theirs has gone up, along with Cherokee Electric. I wish I knew the answer. The cost of fuel is going up. That’s part of the issue. I think we’re going to see another month of higher bills too.
“I wish I knew the answer. I don’t know the answer. I know there’s been no increase on the electrical side. We’re still paying the same kilowatts that we’ve been paying. It’s not that we don’t want the bills to be lower. We’re paying for what we’re using is what we’re being told.”