Updated Jan. 13 at 10 a.m. - updated to reflect emailed statement from Brent McCarver.
In a meeting packed with actions Tuesday, the Jasper City Council agreed to extend the 80-hour paid medical leave period for all employees with exposure to COVID-19, as well as extend the renewal deadline for business licenses until March 1.
Previously federal funds helped to pay for the COVID-19 medical leave, but the council agreed to pick up the full cost now those funds have run out. City Clerk Kathy Chambless noted an increase in cases has been seen in the area. Chambless noted she was only talking about the 80 hour provision, adding, "I'm not talking about provisions under the extended family medical leave that provided time off with children, because that died Dec. 31."
Mayor David O'Mary said he agreed with the proposal.
In other action on Tuesday, the council:
• Extended the renewal deadline for business licenses from Jan. 31 to March 1, as many business owners have not gotten notices due to delays in the U.S. Mail seen during the holidays. The notices were sent out the first week in December, Chambless said. She also said due to COVID-19, the city doesn't have enough space to adequately handle some renewal matters in face-to-face meetings. The city is redesigning its website so renewals and other city payments could be done on the website.
Revenue Compliance Officer Brent McCarver said in an email Wednesday, "Businesses will not be considered past due for renewal, and will not be charged penalty or fees for being past due provided you obtain your renewal by end of business on March 1, 2021. You are still urged to send your renewals in ASAP for processing regarding issues with U.S. Mail. There will NOT be an extension granted beyond March 1st, 2021. Penalty and fees will apply following that date."
• Introduced a budget amendment that would increase the pay of the municipal judge by $21,000, using funds from the General Fund. This was done because of the increased number of initial appearance hearings that the municipal judge must now do, based on permanent changes made by the Alabama Supreme Court in November. Previously, court magistrates could conduct those 72-hour hearings. Now, all appearance hearings have to be conducted by the judge, which has taken twice as much time for Municipal Judge Jim Brakefield. The city has been paying the municipal judge $28,000 a year. "I can tell you it is real because I see it," O'Mary said Friday, adding he didn't know how Brakefield had time to practice law. At the same time, Brakefield said the hearings have been effective in not losing track of prisoners and "holding their feet to the fire."
• Approved, under the same introduced budget amendment, providing for two police equipment items using capital improvement funds. At Friday's council meeting, Assistant Chief Paul Tucker asked on behalf of Poe for $6,320 to purchase a forensic device that will help in obtaining evidence from computer devices, allowing the department to not be dependent on other departments. The full cost is about $12,600, as the mayor is matching half the cost, Chambless said.
Under the same amendment, the council agreed to purchase a new truck for the department. At Friday's meeting, Tucker requested funding to replace an investigation vehicle totaled in an accident. The department received an insurance check for $15,000 minus the deductible, putting it at $14,500. Tucker said officials wanted to replace the vehicle with a 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup, costing $31,675, with the city to pay the balance. The truck will be purchased from Donohoo Chevrolet in Fort Payne, which has the state bid prices.
• Agreed to a Retail Restaurant Liquor License (for on-premise consumption) for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Jasper. No problems were found in the police investigation for the license. The chain said in news reports in September it would make the change at its restaurants after a test run at some Florida locations in June of last year. Although the chain banned alcohol for half a century, it began to try alcohol sales to boost sales after the coronavirus pandemic hit.
• Appointed Dr. Roger Childers to the Mental Health Board, replacing Jerry Lovett, who is leaving due to health reasons.
• Appointed Jon Williams, Josh Gates, Jerry Byars Jr. and Carlos Pedroza to the Jasper Industrial Development Board. The council also reappointed Curt Balard, Kevin Callahan, Kenny Harris, Lamar Lawrence, Tony Sparks and Charles Tatum to the board.
• Approved travel for municipal court personnel to attend the scheduled magistrate certification training for 2021. Travel was also approved for parks and recreation employees to attend the ARPA Conference in Gulf Shores Jan. 24-27.
• Agreed to accept $5,000 in grant funds from the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable in Washington, D.C., through the Walker County Health Action Partnership for trail improvements and accessibility to the existing trail system around T.R. Simmons Elementary School and Jasper High School. The Daily Mountain Eagle expects to soon have a full update about the project.
• Tabled the purchase of police ballistic (bullet proof) vests at the request of purchasing agent Derleda Abrom. At her suggestion, the council also rejected all bids under the public works provision for safe room storm shelters, after two bids were opened on Nov. 10. Valley Storm Shelters in Huntsville and Aqua Marine Enterprises, Inc. in Danville.
• Agreed to renew a number of contracts under the same terms and pricing, including those for dual wall pipe (J&G Culverts in Fayette), concrete ready mix (North Alabama Ready Mix), inmate food (Son's Supermarket), hauling services (Blunt Springs Materials in Steele) and tornado sirens (Jackson Communication Service).
• Agreed to send bid invitations for eight-yard slant cans (dumpsters), tree removal service and fuel service.
• Voted to add reserve police officers to the city's worker's compensation coverage, at the request of Police Chief J.C. Poe. The cost will be $135 per reserve officer, with 10 reserve officers on the force. "It's still not a significant amount of funding to insure that if they get hurt, we have them covered," Chambless said.
Poe, thanking the council for its action at the meeting, said Tuesday that the department has been adding reserve officers, all of whom are vetting and have background investigations.
"They do not have arrest powers unless they are with a sworn police officer. Then they are there to assist the sworn police officer," Poe said. "They do not act on their own, patrol on their own or do anything like that. But it is a great help for us." The reserve officers also go through some of the same training as sworn police officers, on topics such as ethics, sexual harassment, the use of a baton or chemical spray. They also are held to the same firearm standards as regular officers. "In today's world, we need as many (reserve officers) as we can possibly get," he said.
• Decided to allow O'Mary to enter into an agreement with Municipal Intercept Services to provide debt collection assistance in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Revenue. Chambless said the Alabama League of Municipalities worked with the state department to allow municipalities to make a claim on debt owed to the cities. She described it as another tool for the city to use in collected money owed to it, probably for small individual debt, such as what is owed for garbage. City officials will train for the program to determine if it is worth using, although other cities have been successful using it to collect small debt, she said.
• Introduced an ordinance rezoning a 3.8 acre parcel of land in District 5 at the old West Jasper School at 1400 19th Street W to be used by Capstone Rural Health Center as a clinic. The zoning would be changed from R-2 Single Family Residential to B-1 Neighborhood Business. The Jasper Planning Commission approved the proposal and it will be on the agenda for the next council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
• Adopted a resolution of nuisance abatement for two unsafe structures, one at 501 Highland Ave. in District 1 and the other at 2501 Old Tuscaloosa Road in District 5.
Also, at Friday's work session, the council:
• Heard from Brakefield that the Jasper Civic Center has worked very well for municipal court due to COVID-19, although they cannot take payments there. Officials talked about the need for moving offices for the court so people can pay and so office files and personnel can be consolidated. Also, some people show up unexpectedly, without their file handy to pull up. Chambless said officials are looking at possibly using the old Walker High School for the municipal court offices, as a large auditorium is available. "We do need to think of a long-term plan for the court," Chambless said, which officials said would be good for office space and parking.
• Heard O'Mary say that Curtis Batson, who oversees the (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) RSVP program in Walker County, is looking for a new site for the AARP income tax program as the American Red Cross building is closed to the public due to COVID-19. Batson approached the mayor for help three weeks earlier, with O'Mary noting the group did 200 tax returns the year for free. Seven tax preparers would need the space. O'Mary said the group is needing a back room in the Jasper Civic Center until April 8 - although the civic center is not generally open to the public, except for specific events such as court hearings and swearing-ins. O'Mary said if something was happening at the Civic Center, the group would have to be displaced. City officials also discussed at the meeting the senior center and the Natatorium as having space they could use. "I think our goal should be that we don't disrupt them and they don't disrupt us," O'Mary said, saying Batson seemed open to other sites.
• Heard O'Mary said an employee asked him a couple of days earlier about getting a policy relating to masks and temperature taking in relation to the COVID-19. He asked the council to give thought to that.
For continuing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.mountaineagle.com/coronavirus.