By ED HOWELL
(Part 2 of 2 parts)
County administrator Robbie Dickerson led a PowerPoint review of the accomplishments of the Walker County Commission Tuesday during a budget session, and also noted a number of improvements that are already in the works.
The commission may approve the Fiscal 2001 budget as early as Monday. The budget will take effect on Oct. 1.
Dickerson noted the county was seeing some increases for the year, including lodging, before the COVID-19 pandemic started in March. “It’s been a roller coaster for all of us,” she said. “But we were able to meet a lot of our goals this year.”
She noted a number of goals and tasks that the commission took on during the Fiscal 2020 year ending Sept. 30. For example, county looked at obsolete servers and equipment.
“We have new software for probate and revenue. I think revenue goes live Oct. 1” with the software from Ingenuity, Inc. of Pelham, she said. “That includes up-to-date servers and up-to-date working stations. That was a major accomplishment this year.”
Another obstacle was in replacing out-of-date voting tabulation equipment. The equipment, along with new electronic poll books obtained at the urging of the Secretary of State’s Office, will be used for the Nov. 3 elections. The tabulation machines will be leased with initial assistance from the state, while state funding using Help America Vote Act money was obtained to help with the poll books.
The county also established a solid waste litter program, she said. It started working on a “better, friendlier website” for the county that is still being updated through Tim Peek of RyaTech Computer Solutions. A new roof was placed on the courthouse and the basement was renovated to make environmentally safe, while the probate roof was also repaired. Solid waste has two new trucks.
Dickerson noted that revenue in business license that comes in over the budgeted amount continues to go for district road repairs. Overall, district road repair funding went well.
“We were trying to give each district $175,000, and we almost made that goal,” she said, noting the coronavirus reduced the emphasis on business license collections. However, the commission has a contract with a firm to do those collections for the coming year.
Dickerson noted one of the county’s major projects was a renovation and upgrade for the Walker County Jail, including painting, locks and cameras. District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt indicated that “good management” allowed for the jail upgrade without increasing funding. She also noted the jail has obtained a new body scanner, new operational software and new HVAC units, which were recently approved by the commission.
“That will be almost as good of a new jail as we could afford,” Dickerson said. “It is a major accomplishment.”
She said the county did much prep to deal with the pandemic. She noted roughly $1.88 million was allocated to the county from the CARES Act, which allowed the county to put up shields in county facilities to keep social distancing, signs and cleaning stations. Maintenance crews began “double tracking” on cleaning in public areas through the day once county offices reopened, as well as a fogging program that is being done twice a month or as needed.
“All the district supervisors have requested a fogger,” she said, although a $99 fogger is now $299. “The chemicals are not an issue, but I’m trying to let that price go down a little bit, but we will get all of that ordered.”
She noted what has been obtained to deal with the virus has been reimbursed from the CARES Act.
The purchase order system has been expanded to about 90 percent of all county offices to reduce foot traffic and maintain social distancing, Dickerson said. District offices, the Sheriff’s Office and solid waste continued to operate and county employees in general continued to work, although many worked from home before offices reopened.
A number of offices and employees also had to work through the Easter Sunday tornado in April despite the pandemic. Chairman Jerry Bishop noted many counties slowed down due to COVID-19, but Walker County’s employees continued to do their job. He added that roadwork is going on in each district currently.
Noting security needs, Dickerson said the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs has “rolled all the grants over” due to the pandemic, and the county has $160,000 this year to spend on security needs. Door entry upgrades and cameras have been installed, as have bullet-resistant glass in some areas.
“Our cameras here (at the commission office, in the annex behind the main courthouse) are also in with the sheriff’s cameras (at the Walker County Jail). (Chief Deputy Anthony Leach) has them. He is watching over us every day. It is just wonderful to have him doing that. I feel like I’m here, I’m good, because if something happens he’s going to know it, because he watches those,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson said on the weekend of Oct. 9-11, security measures for judge’s offices will be put in. Bishop said after the meeting new doors, bullet resistant glass and intercom systems will be installed for the judges.
During the meeting, Dickerson said the county is also making preparations for “one way in, one way out” measures at the courthouse, as well as employee ID badges.
Bishop said county officials have a meeting scheduled Friday with JMR+H Architecture in Montgomery, the architectural firm of the lift planned for the south entrance of the courthouse, where officials hope to hear plans and estimated costs for the project.
Grant funds have been secured for the project, although $150,000 out of capital improvements will be used to finish the funding, Dickerson said.
Dickerson also noted, after a number of problems with the AT&T phone system, that AT&T agrees that county can walk away from its contract, which was obtained on state bid prices. The county lawyers are still looking at how leased equipment would be affected.
The county has reached out to one company to see what prices would be, although such an effort would have go be bid out.
Research has shown the county might could save $40,000 by switching, she said, which still includes the other county buildings the county has tried to link with its phone building.
“We have never seen the savings that AT&T promised us,” she said, saying the county is still paying “the old bill, the new bill, the capital lease and of course our Charter/Spectrum internet.” County officials have given AT&T until Sept. 30 to resolve problems to encourage the county to remain with them, and the company is working on that.
As for safety and emergencies, Dickerson wants a task force or committee formed after the first of the year to work on procedures. The new Ingenuity software at Probate and Revenue should allow those offices the option of working through an emergency.
Only one or two county offices do not have new software, including the commission office – but Ingenuity does not handle that software and will instead help Dickerson to find other compatible software.
Dickerson also noted the commission has a good program for overseeing finances, where she and Bishop doublechecks each other on revenue and bills. (Steve Miller, the new chairman to take over in November, was in attendance and got a copy of the draft budget.)