April 4, 2013 10:25:27 AM
The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors unanimously accepted two requests Monday from District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith related to drainage improvements in Crawford and one request to ask the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District Board to clear and clean ditches at the Mississippi Highway 69 South and Yorkville Road intersection.
The board took no action on a fourth request from Smith, which was to proceed with a project to remove asbestos from and demolish an abandoned building that once housed the Crawford community school. That request was not listed as an item on the board's agenda, which Smith said was because he received an estimated cost for each phase of that project from Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority Executive Director Roger Short on Friday.
Smith said demolishing the building was scheduled on the county's comprehensive plan as a two-part item that also included the construction of a new community center in Crawford. While the latter was accomplished last year, the former has yet to be completed.
"Recently I've had complaints from citizens in that community saying the building is being used for illicit activities," Smith said. "It's creating an unsafe environment for the community out there and people want it gone."
Smith then presented to the board the bid Short received from environmental remediation company Impact Environmental -- $34,436 to remove the asbestos and $39,443 to demolish the building.
He said the county recently redirected capital improvement funding into the county's operational budget, and that money should have been used to demolish the building. Another option he presented was to have county road crews demolish the building after an outside party removes the asbestos.
Board President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders noted that the building is owned by CLRA, not the county.
"We need a letter or something for the parks and recreation board requesting that we tear the building down," Sanders said. "It's their building. We can't just run out there and tear the building down if they don't want it torn down."
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks suggested the board table the matter as it was not listed on the original agenda and he felt board members time to gather more information.
Smith argued that board members always hesitate to approve requests for projects in his district.
"We come in here and we vote about planning and a number of other things that are not part of the budget ... I don't have a problem supporting those projects, because that's the right thing to do, but when it comes to District 4, it's like it's always something," Smith said. "All I'm asking from the board is for the same courtesy and support that everyone else gets in this room when they come in with something for their district. The can always gets kicked down the road on me."
Sanders noted that out of the four requests Smith brought to the board, three were unanimously approved.
Brooks made a motion that the board write a letter requesting CLRA's permission to pursue the project, which Smith seconded. District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham said he would like more time to gather information from county road manager Ronnie Burns on the cost for road crews to demolish the building.
"From a budget point of view, we could do it in steps," Brigham said. "We don't have to do everything this fiscal year. We're halfway through this fiscal year now. We could do the asbestos possibly this fiscal year and tear it down the next fiscal year."
Following more discussion, Brooks rescinded his motion and moved to postpone action until the board can gather more information, which gained unanimous approval.
"What I'm saying is that I'll never be against anybody's project in their district ... If we're going to allow the road department to do it, let (Burns) go down and figure out what it's going to take to tear it down after the asbestos is done and then set up a schedule that we know," Brooks said. "As (Brigham) said, if we come up with $34,000 for the asbestos removal, on some rainy days or something when those guys aren't doing anything, (they) can go down there and tear it down a little bit at a time, and before long, the project is done."
Smith said Tuesday that while action needs to be taken soon, tabling the matter does allow the board to identify what can be done both in the short and long-term to best correct the problem. He said he planned to meet again with Short and ask him if the bid presented was the only one the county had received and look into the possibility of having road crews head up the demolition as a cost-saving measure.
Short said Tuesday that he would not seek additional bids until supervisors agree to fund the project up to a certain amount, in which case he would likely get two more bids. Regardless of who heads up the demolition, the county will pay a substantial amount, he said.
"Even if the road crew does it, it's still going to have to come out of the county budget," Short said. "That's a big school. It's not like you're tearing down a small shed."
The two items related to drainage improvements in Crawford that were approved will allow engineers to explore and seek grant funding to remove and relocate water lines currently under main thoroughfares. Smith said he has identified eight roads in the community where shallow lines in ditches affect the adequacy of drainage in rain events, which leads to standing water, property damage and road deterioration.
Smith said he hopes to qualify for federal funding to relocate the lines to the back shoulders of those roads. Such projects have already been completed in other communities in the county, he said.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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