By BEN GRAFTON
At the Freeport Council meeting of Sept. 11, City Attorney Clayton Adkinson announced that this meeting included the first public hearing for the 2012-2013 budget, total expenses for which are estimated to be $4.564 million. An ad valorem tax rate of 4.7302 mils will be in place compared to the roll-back rate of 5.0506 mils. There were no questions from the public. The final budget hearing is scheduled for Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. The hearing was approved by the Council.
Al Ford, Freeport’s interim incident fire chief presented a brief summary of department activity for August. He said the department had a good month. Firefighters underwent 76 hours of training. In addition a national firefighters class was fortunately presented in this region and the department sent three of its shift leaders to the class. During the month, the department ran 50 medical calls, six vehicle accidents, and one structural fire. It also had to deal with six trees that fell over as the result of all of the rain that softened the ground. On Aug. 27 the department staffed up for tropical storm Isaac and although rainfall was the primary problem the occasion provided a beneficial review of its hurricane plan and a good training exercise.
Park Director Shane Supple gave the Council an update on the parks programs. The soccer program is active with 108 participants signed up in Freeport. This is up from only 72 participants last year. The program needs one additional referee. Supple announced that back ground check procedures have been updated to the national youth standard and anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony or has had a misdemeanor conviction in the last seven years is ineligible to coach. Street soccer has started on Friday nights at basketball courts and a church soccer league plays on the regular fields in the same time frame.
Park maintenance work underway includes, among other things, spraying for army worms; ordering three swings and picnic tables to replace those that have been destroyed; checking into water fountain repair; pulling two wells for cleaning and adding screens and installing three solar street lights which were originally purchased as replacements. The lights work well and look good.
Charlie Cotton of Preble-Rish opened the discussion, tabled from last week, about the proposed project for two new softball fields for the Freeport Sports Complex. The low base bid of $235,000 for this work far exceeded expectations. Mayor Mickey Marse stated that the city did not have enough money to contract the work and a motion to reject all of the bids was approved. Marse proposed either doing the work, “in-house” or waiting for a better day. The county will be asked to help by hauling dirt for the project.
Cotton reported that Well House No. 4 is out for bids and the pre-bid meeting was scheduled for Sept. 12.
City Clerk Robin Haynes had distributed draft copies of a Freeport Safety & Health Manual at the last meeting. The insurance adjuster is asking the city to consider adopting this manual. Haynes asked for and received approval for the manual.
Haynes also gave Council members draft copies of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) housing assistance plan for the city at the last meeting. The goal of the plan is to apply for grant funds to enable low to moderate income families, who own and occupy their homes, to rehabilitate substandard units. If the application is successful the city will be responsible for administering the program in strict accordance with CDBG development and rehabilitation rules. A program administrator will be appointed by the city to manage the program. The program must be adopted by the city before applications for grants are submitted. A motion to adopt the plan was approved.
The Council approved a motion to purchase a ground penetrating radar pipeline detector to be used by the water department to locate underground water lines. The purchase cost will be approximately $13,000.
Jody Solomon of Praestare Engineering asked the Council to approve an amendment to its existing engineering agreement so that Praestare can provide inspections for the work to relocate Freeport’s utility lines, between SR-20 and the Clyde B. Wells Bridge, along the right-of-way of the U.S. 331 widening project. The relocation work is not expected to exceed 500 days. The Council approved the amendment.
The Anderson Columbia bid accepted by the state to do the Freeport utility relocation work has been found to exceed a similar bid submitted by C.W. Roberts by $700,000 – $800,000. Marse said the city needed help in investigating this discrepancy and asked for Solomon’s help in pursuing the matter. Solomon agreed. Marse added that the invoice for the first payment ($79,000) has been received although the work has not even been started. The city will need to carefully watch what goes into the ground once the work does start.