The city, under Gilbert’s leadership, has created a city seal and a branding campaign to unify the appearance of the city and city vehicles. Gilbert said this was an important step to attract businesses to the town as well as to pay homage to the roots of the city.
Another part of the improvement plan Gilbert implemented after his election was an overhaul of the police department and its antiquated fleet of vehicles. He credited new Police Chief Nick Smith with giving the police department a new, more open community-oriented attitude with programs like neighborhood watch, vacation watch, business checks and the “Good Morning” program.
Gilbert also discussed the improvement to the city’s sewer treatment plant. The system is currently under a consent decree from Alabama Department of Environmental Management because of the need for the renovations. The treatment plant is undergoing a full upgrade to the plant and lift stations.
These improvements will be paid for by a grant that will pay 72 percent of the cost. The remaining 28 percent must be paid by the city, which Gilbert said will be done by a ULDA loan. To offset the cost of the loan, sewer rates will rise 5 percent, an increase Gilbert said the city has already implemented. The upgrades are expected to be complete in three to five years.
“When it is complete, we are going to have a great infrastructure to build a city back on,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert also discussed the recent demolition of the city’s downtown which was heavily damaged by tornados two years ago and further destroyed by a series of fires since that time.
He then presented the plans for the downtown area, which he called a “blank slate” for the city. Those plans include a new grocery store which would be owned by the city’s industrial development board and run by Mark Bozeman. The city received $1.3 million in disaster recovery funds to construct the new store. Construction is expected to begin by October.
More disaster recovery funding is going to become available and Gilbert said the city plans to be “more aggressive” in its approach to the funding this time.
He is hoping to get $6 to 10 million of the new funds for the construction of three main projects: a city hall/library building, police/fire department and infrastructure improvements on the downtown area.
He finished by talking about efforts to foster positivity and selflessness in the city and bring a community feel back to the downtown area through a series of upcoming events.
There will be fundraisers, movies and other events to bring the residents to the downtown area, even before any construction begins.