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Lanett gets department updates

LANETT — With Monday’s council meeting being the first one since the new administration was sworn into office on Nov. 2, Lanett Mayor Kyle McCoy asked the city’s department heads to give updates on their departments. This gives council members a heads up on where the city stands heading into 2021. The new council looks much like the old one, as District 5 Council Member Tifton Dobbs is the only new member.

Making reports on their departments were Police Chief Johnny Wood, Fire/EMS Chief Johnny Allen, City/Clerk Treasurer Deborah Gilbert of the city hall staff, Utilities Superintendent Tony Chandler, Rocky Bolt of the Street Department and Jody Lowery, who’s the city’s project manager for the airport and streetscape improvements.

Wood said that the police department was awaiting word on some matching grants it had applied for. If approved, a $15,000 grant would allow the LPD to replace all the bulletproof vests the officers wear while on duty. A $24,000 equipment grant would take care of a number of needs, including replacing body cameras, some handheld radios and would allow the department to trade in some aging tasers for new ones.

The police department is looking to add two new 2021 Ford Interceptors to its fleet next year. They will be purchased through an ADECA administered grant program that will refund the city a portion of its purchase price. In effect, the city will be paying $19,000 for each vehicle, which is well below the listed price. One of the vehicles will be replacing a police car that was recently totaled in an accident and the other will replace a vehicle that is scheduled for replacement.

Wood said the city has two police officers who are presently deployed with the National Guard. “Our officers have been getting lots of training in ethical decision making and crisis management,” he said. “We have gotten a total of 627 hours of training for everyone in the department. That breaks down to at least 23 hours per officer, which is twice the state average.”

For the most part, certified law enforcement training takes place at Jacksonville State University and Auburn University Montgomery.

Allen said that things are going well for his department. He’s a pretty happy man these days with the Lanett Fire Department being upgraded to an ISO rating of 2, which is almost unheard of for a city the size of Lanett. Allen said his department has gotten approximately 3,500 calls this year, 92 percent of which are EMS calls. Lanett’s fire service area extends to the city limits, which is an estimated six square miles. They do have mutual aid agreements with surrounding departments like East Alabama, Huguley and West Point. Lanett has a very large EMS service area, which includes pretty much the northeast quadrant of Chambers County.

The Lanett Fire Department is on track to receive more than $650,000 in revenue this year, according to Allen.

“That’s pretty good for a city our size,” he said. “Our call volume has been increasing around 8 percent each year for the past five years.”

Allen said the LFD has a plan to replace a truck every three years. He added that the Fire/EMS Department has had good results in recent years with remounts. Instead of purchasing an ambulance brand new, this lets the city save money by replacing the box portion of the vehicle and keeping a truck that’s still in good condition.

“The last truck we purchased has been everything we thought it would be,” Allen said. “We have had very few repairs.”

Two new heart monitors will be purchased in the coming year along with two new Stryker stretchers for the ambulances.

“We are pleased with the prices we have been getting,” he said.

When asked by a council member if the ambulance crews had been called out to many COVID-related cases, Allen said there had been very few in recent weeks.

“When COVID first started, we saw a significant increase in them with our calls,” he said. “But it has fallen off since then. To my knowledge, Chambers County has not seen a big uptick in this in the last few months. There’s been no more than four to six cases a day.”

Council Member Dobbs asked Allen if Lanett EMS was still having CPR classes. He said that they would go out when asked, but that they were no longer teaching mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

“We will teach CPR to any organization,” Allen said. “Just call us. We want everyone to know that we are now doing this without mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”

Chandler said that part of North Lanier Avenue’s new look would be that the wooden utility poles would be removed in favor of 55-foot-tall steel poles. This will go on the portion of street that’s being worked on now.

Chandler added that new meters would be going on some of the larger buildings in the city.

“We were having a loss of anywhere from 70 to 96 percent on what was going through,” he said. “Some businesses were having smaller bills than they should have.”

Chandler added that some gas lines would be replaced in the near future.

“We will be meeting with (grant writer) Louise Campbell,” he said. “We will be looking at water and sewer needs next year.”

A grant has been approved for the final phase of the streetscape. This will complete the top part of the T, running from Highway 29 to Eighth Avenue near Veterans Park and W.O. Lance Elementary School.

Some money is still left in a 10-cent gas tax fund and that will be spent on new street signs, Chandler said.

“It can be spent before Dec. 31,” he said. “We will have to decide on what we will spend it on in 2021. It can be spent on roadways, bridges and signs.”

City Public Works employee Jason Abernathy talked to the council about a fleet services division that is being looked at. This would allow people already employed by the city who have mechanical skills to work on city vehicles. There are some issues involving certification and insurance that are being looked at.

“Hopefully, we can do the maintenance on city vehicles,” he said. “We can save a lot of money doing this. We will be getting a lift jack. When we do, we will have three people in the shop who can do pretty much anything. The big trucks are all computerized. We won’t be able to work on them.”

Street Department head Rocky Bolt told the council that his department had been replacing sidewalks near churches and schools. He said that they’d like to take a South Jennings Avenue project all the way to CVS. Lowery said the new $1 million airport terminal was almost complete.

“Some IT guys are putting in cameras,” he said.

Chris Clark will be putting in sidewalks and paving the parking lot this week.

“That will make the terminal look much better,” he said. “We are also moving along on the runway. Some new culverts are being built. They will be 125 feet wide. Sand and clay is going into a swampy area. The clay has to meet a certain compaction standard, and the best dirt we have is being saved for the final two feet. The contractor has taken down a large hill near the end off the runway.”

The contractor has recently run into some granite. That may necessitate some blasting.

“They are taking down what they can and building up the swampland at the end of the runway,” Lowery said. “I welcome you all to come out there one day, and we will show you around.”

Council Member Angelia Thomas asked Lowery if nearly residents had been told that some blasting could be taking place there. He said they would be notified.

“I hope it won’t be like those guys who used to blast up in Fredonia,” McCoy said. “They would get complaints all the way to River View.”

Thomas said she had heard that and would like to be out at the airport when the blasting took place.

Dobbs said he’d like to see a greater variety of recreation activities in the city.

“It should be more than just football and basketball,” he said. “We have a baseball team at Lanett High, but our guys only start playing when they are in high school. They should have a chance to play when they are younger. Before COVID, the park across from the elementary school was full of kids playing soccer.”

Council Member Tony Malone said that more recreation was fine but that we had to get past COVID first.

Dobbs said that he liked what he heard on the fleet services division.

“I like the idea of saving money, but we should still let the big stuff go to Sandy’s and David’s,” he said.

“I want to see us have a plan for this before we start spending money on it. The way I look at it, to be successful in anything you need to start out right and end up right. It’s good to have our own people working on stuff, but they need to be certified.”

Gilbert presented each council member with a bound copy of the approved 2020-21 fiscal year budget. She said the city’s auditor, Phillip Morgan, would start on the latest audit in December.