WALKER COUNTY COMMISSION

Commission to use most of Reed money for Curry shelter

County will apply for CDBG funds for new courthouse front doors

By ED HOWELL
Daily Mountain Eagle
ed.howell@mountaineagle.com
Posted 7/19/21

The Walker County Commission on Monday gave approval to use up to $150,000 in funding obtained by Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, to use for a new storm shelter in Curry - which could be in place by the end of the year. 

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WALKER COUNTY COMMISSION

Commission to use most of Reed money for Curry shelter

County will apply for CDBG funds for new courthouse front doors

Posted

The Walker County Commission on Monday gave approval to use up to $150,000 in funding obtained by Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, to use for a new storm shelter in Curry - which could be in place by the end of the year. 

In addition, the commission agreed to apply for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money to get better accessibility for the disabled at the front entrance of the Walker County Courthouse and to get an architect to start work on the project. That hire would help officials to present a detailed plan on how it would spend grant funds. 

The commission opted to do that as land has become available next to the Curry Fire Station, by way of a donation from a citizen, District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis said. 

The commission decided on using $150,000 in line item reimbursement money in the state General Fund. The language in the budget would also allow it to use the money for courthouse security, but the commission will apply for other funds to continue that work. 

Kenneth Boswell, the director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), had discussed the situation with Davis and Curry Volunteer Fire Department officials during a visit he made in June. He also reviewed needs at the courthouse, including elevators and the need for front doors compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Boswell noted while a new lift at the courthouse takes wheelchair users up to the top of the courthouse steps, it would be difficult for them to open the heavy front doors to get in. Davis suggested after Monday's meeting that that automatic sliding doors would be looked at using grant funds. 

Grant writer Terry Acuff, from Community Consultants in Huntsville, told the commission Monday that Aug. 16 is the deadline for CDBG applications. The county could apply for a competitive grant for community enhancement grant, which is $300,000 and requires a 10 percent match. He said the commission is looking to apply for handicapped accessibility for the courthouse. 

Davis noted in the meeting the discussions have been going on for both the courthouse work and the Curry shelter, which did not get a shelter when many were set up in the county some time ago due to lack of land. He noted that the lack of land has been resolved. 

He said he and District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt met with Boswell and with the head of the state Emergency Management Agency, and a call was placed to Reed, to find money for a shelter in Curry as well as a smaller shelter in Sipsey "that we will address at a different date." 

He noted a grant application for shelters would not have a guarantee for approval, and a shelter would probably not be set up until late 2022, or even later, if a grant come through. 

"So Senator Reed went into the state budget, working with ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell, to up the grant money we've received in the past few years for courthouse security," Davis said. 

A release recently said that $30,000 was arranged for the courthouse and $120,000 was being allocated for "Walker County storm shelters." However, Reed said after the Curry event that the combined $150,000 - which is being released in the state's Fiscal 2022 budgets starting Oct. 1 this year - is actually mixed together and the county will decide how much of the $150,000 can go for shelters or courthouse security improvements. 

Boswell said during his Curry visit that it is possible that all the money could be used for a shelter and the county could apply for grants for the courthouse needs. 

Chairman Steve Miller also noted the commission could choice "either/or" on the use, but also noted the courthouse security money could not be used for labor, which Davis said was a good point. In the past, more than $200,000 in courthouse security funds Reed has obtained for the county has been used for security cameras, doors and other items, and it cannot be used for staffing deputies at the courthouse. 

He said the whole $150,000, if not needed, could be allocated for security, noting officials such as Walker County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Regina Myers and other officials have looked at shelter prices. An individual has also donated equipment time, for prep and site work.

As a result, officials think $120,000 would work for a shelter, he said. Aderholt said the commission could allocate up to $150,000 and redirect the excess, which commissioners eventually adopted. 

In the wake of the Boswell visit, "we decided the easiest way to navigate and get Curry a shelter in the quickest timeline is to allocate that $120,000 for the Curry shelter, if it is the will of the commissioners," Davis said. "We still have $30,000 for courthouse security in that $150,000. That money will be available in October. So we can start the process with (Myers and Assistant Walker County Engineer Glenn Peek) leading that, to go ahead and get the shelter bid, and work through that with Terry and get that process rolling. Hopefully we can have a shelter in November, I think." 

That would leave the commission to also apply for the grant money Acuff mentioned for courthouse needs to be addressed, he said. 

"There have been a lot of hours put into this" to figure out the best way to help the Curry community with that much needed storm shelter, he said. "This is the quickest way to accomplish that. Hopefully, we'll get the grant for the courthouse needs also." 

Davis thanked Reed and Boswell, who were not present, on behalf of the commission and the Curry community, adding that Boswell was easy to deal with. He said Boswell attempted to get money out of Washington so he could pay for the shelter out of his funds, but was unsuccessful in that.

"He went the extra mile to try to help us get this process done," Davis said. 

Acuff said by the first meeting in August, the commission would formally approve resolution for the grant application. 

In his commissioner comments later, Davis thanked Curry firemen for the work they do. The department is expected to help to open the shelter in bad weather. 

"Going forward on that project, Regina and Glenn will take that and run it," Davis said. "We'll try to move forward as quickly as we possibly can. But we know that is a great need for that community," he said. 

Miller said in his comment time that the shelter is a big project for Curry. "I would like to thank Mr. Davis for being on top of this and taking this project, and running with it. He has done a great job there." 

Davis noted a number of Curry fire officials were in attendance. 

A shelter "is something that our community has anticipated and looked forward to," Curry Fire board chairman Joe Batton said after the meeting. "After the last season of storms, we felt it was urgent as any need that we had. We look forward with moving ahead." 

Reed said in a statement later in the day, “I am pleased to see the funding I worked to have included in the state general fund budget go to such an important project for our community.

"As we have seen in recent storm systems that have moved through our area, having access to a safe, secure place to seek shelter when severe weather arises is critical in providing proper protection for members of our community.  One of my favorite parts about serving in the Senate is having the opportunity to bring resources from the state to our area. This project will be an important tool in improving our community’s ability to stay safe during dangerous storms.”