Over the past several days, the LaFayette City Council and Chambers County Commission have held several discussions about funding for the resurfacing of Alabama Avenue. Originally the city submitted a request to receive ATRIP (Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program) funds as part of phase three, the final phase of the statewide road and bridge improvement plan. However, rather that approving the City of LaFayette funds for road improvements, the state allocated Chambers County with a bulk sum in the amount of $2,375, 665 with the instructions to work with their cities to decide what projects would be funded in each.
The Chambers County Commission has been active in all three phases of the ATRIP program, amassing over $11 million in funding for road and bridge improvement.
The city’s individual application was for the repair and resurfacing of Alabama Ave from LaFayette High School for approximately 1.4 miles west, excluding the block between LaFayette Street and First Street. The proposed cost of the roadwork would have been approximately $968,868, of which the city would be responsible for funding a 20 percent match.
At a Chambers County Commission budget meeting last week, County Engineer Josh Harvill discussed how to distribute the ATRIP funds from phase three. He recommended two bridge replacements at a cost of $1.153 million and the resurfacing of County Roads 1177, 1062 and 1211 and the Fairfax Bypass project, which would have to be shortened. He also recommended that the county work with the City of LaFayette on its ATRIP project to resurface Alabama Avenue. He said that the LaFayette project could be done at half the cost using county and city funds, thereby freeing up ATRIP funds for other projects.
On Friday, the council held a special called meeting to discuss the work on Alabama Ave. and an agreement with the county.
Commissioner Joe Blanks, who represents part of LaFayette, attended the meeting and said the city had not looked into all the requirements from the state regarding use of ATRIP funds and mentioned curbing, movement of light poles and drainage. “All of that cost money,” Blanks said and added that the state will not help them pay for those undertakings.
“It would have been so nice if you had come to us during phase one or phase two, it wouldn’t have been a problem,” Blanks said. “But what has happened in phase three, it’s politics. They took our money and gave it to, I’ll say Madison County for example, and they gave them $86 million.”
Blanks told the council that the county could get the road paved, without having to move poles, and would help with drainage using county employees at a much cheaper price than it would using state guidelines.
“It’s going to be done cheaper, but is it going to get done the right way?” Councilwoman Tammie Williams asked. Blanks said it would.
“The concern is that Josh thought we were only doing resurfacing,” City Clerk Louis Davidson said to Blanks. “His figure he came up with at the budget meeting to do the project wasn’t based on what we actually doing. It’s my understanding that you guys looked at each project and said, “looking at all these projects, we can get LaFayette done without it being involved in ATRIP,” but that was based on an assumption that the project was (just repaving). And that was incorrect.”
The initial amount the city was prepared to spend on matching the ATRIP grant was approximately $193,000, plus the cost for engineering services, which would have been an estimated $100,000. Mayor Barry Moody said. “In a meeting, what Josh initially said was that for that same amount of money we would be putting toward the ATRIP project, the county would do it and we would spend the same amount of money. Then there were drainage issues that needed to be met. So if we’re able to get it resurfaced along with the drainage to meet the council’s satisfaction, what else would it include for us?”
The main reason for the timing of the called meeting was that the commission was meeting on Monday intending to make a decision because the deadline to notify the state on the use of ATRIP funds is August 23.
Williams asked Blanks if the commission could hold off on making a decision Monday. “I think it’s fair to us,” she said. “We’re being forced to do something that’s not really fair to us.”
“Yes, we did come in on the last leg,” Councilman Terry Mangram said when Blanks again said he wished the city had come in earlier. “But now, I’ll be honest with you, I feel like we’re getting the shaft.”
“In phase one and phase two, you’ve had all these projects you’ve done, you’ve done work all over the county, almost $12 million worth,” Councilman Mike Ellis said. “I think it’s only fair that you guys help out the City of LaFayette. I’ve been on the council since November and this is the first time we’ve asked the county for anything.”
“We appreciate the fact that the county is willing to help us,” Mayor Moody said. “But with such a short amount of time we’re in between a rock and a hard spot. If we could have Monday and know exactly what was going to be done. What would we not be getting?”
City Attorney Mac Tucker recommended taking the original plans to Harvill (who was out of town during this meeting) early Monday and discuss what will and won’t be included as part of an agreement with the county.
Then on Monday, Tucker, Ellis, Davidson and Water and Wastewater Superintendent Katie Hill met with the full commission and Harvill in a work session to discuss the funding. It was then revealed later that day at the regularly scheduled council meeting that progress had been made.
At the council meeting, Tucker said that Harvill has reworked the estimate and provided much more detail. He said that the county estimated the cost of repaving, which included grating the road down and addressing the drainage issue, at $456,000. Of that amount, the county has agreed to provide $185,000 to help with the work, leaving the city to bear a cost of $271,000. That’s less that the estimate city funding required for the ATRIP match and engineering services.
Also of importance for LaFayette is that there would be no federal regulations to follow if the county did the work, such as moving light poles and mailboxes. The county’s proposal also doesn’t include time constraints for doing the work. This is of particular importance because the city has applied for a Community Development Block Grant to replace the water lines under Alabama Avenue. They would like to get that work done before any paving takes place. There is also the possibility that the city doesn’t get a CDBG grant this time and has to reapply next year, which would further delay the repaving.
Tucker did mention two other factors of note about the county’s proposal. First, if the city decides to hold off on the Alabama Avenue project, they can still use the services, along with the $185,000, to address other paving needs in the city. Second, there were some items requested in the ATRIP grant that were not offered by the county, such as a reduction in the amount of curbing and sidewalk replacement. Tucker noted that because the county would grade down the road, the curbing issue might be a moot one.
Following Tucker’s discussion, the council unanimously approved accepting the county’s proposal to accepts their funding in lieu of ATRIP funds.
The commissions Monday could take no action because it was a work session, but each commissioner seemed to have no objection for the plan. Harvill told them that once the LaFayette council had made a decision, he would draft a letter to inform the state on the county’s plans for ATRIP funds. Because of LaFayette’s acceptance, he will submit that letter by Friday.