Long delivers State of the CountyPublished 1:11pm Friday, February 28, 2014
Morgan County Commision Chairman Ray Long delivered the text of the State of the County Address at the Turner-Surles Center in Decatur Thursday morning.
Here is the text of his speech:
I want to thank the Chamber for hosting this event each year. The chamber works very hard for Decatur and Morgan County and a lot of the times they don’t get the recognition they deserve. I personally want to thank John Seymour and his staff for what they do for Morgan County.
I want to thank everyone that is here this morning. I know it is early for some of you. I know a lot of you work from 9 to 5 so this will be overtime for you.
I would like to thank the Brewer ROTC for presenting the colors for us this morning. Thank you for taking time out of your school schedule.
We have a good group of municipal officials here this morning. Will you please stand? I want to thank you for coming. Our county is so different than most other counties in Alabama. The county commission and all the municipalities work together all the time. We know that if any of us need help, we can call on each other for assistance. There are no boundary lines that we won’t cross to help each other on a project. It means a lot to me to see you here. Thank you.
If you are an elected official besides a municipal official or a county commissioner, will you please stand to be recognized? Thank you.
I would like to introduce some other people here today. I want to thank all my commissioners for coming. District One Commissioner Jeff Clark, District Two Commissioner Randy Vest, District Three Commissioner Don Stisher, and District Four Commissioner Greg Abercrombie. They do a great job for our county.
Belinda Ealey, our Administrator, and Julie Reeves, our Assistant Administrator, are here. Marsha Keeney, our Payroll and Benefits Officer, is here. They keep things going in the office. I get a lot of the credit but they are truly the ones that keep things moving.
Sheryl Marsh, our Community Relations Director is here. Sheryl is responsible for our quarterly newsletter that is mailed to 40,000 households throughout the county. She does a great job with this. I hope you all enjoy them.
I want to thank my Pastor, Shane Lewis, for coming. He is a dear friend to Regina and I. Our church, Somerville Baptist, is truly blessed to have him as our Pastor. Our church has more than doubled in size since God sent him to become our pastor. We continue to grow both in numbers and spiritually. Thank you Bro. Shane for being here.
Last but not least, I want to thank my wife, Regina. She is such a blessing to me. She has to hear about my work and ideas all the time. Regina and I are a team. Every venture that I take, she is there supporting me. I always remind her that she is the First Lady of Morgan County. Thank you, Regina, for your love and support.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to start this speech today by letting you know Morgan County is in good shape. Our finances are strong and we hope the trend continues. The reason our finances are strong is because our department heads, employees, and elected officials are using your money wisely. During the past budget year, Revenue Commissioner Amanda Scott, License Commissioner Sue Roan, Sheriff Ana Franklin, Probate Judge Greg Cain, Board of Registrars, our courthouse maintenance, Community Relations, Data Processing, EMA, Animal Services, and Park and Recreation all came in under budget. With their help, we were able to save over $600,000 that was budgeted in the 2013 budget. This, with the help of some unexpected income, allowed us to build our current reserves up to a little over $2 million.
We are slowly moving toward construction of our jail annex. This new expansion will hold around 315 inmates. We hope to have everything ready and put the expansion out for bid in early May. This is something that we have talked about for a long time and it is finally here. Currently we have around 490 inmates in our jail. Since crime is popular, this additional space is needed. We have contracted with the City of Decatur to house their inmates. We know that Mayor Kyle will hate not having a jail, but we have promised to let him visit his inmates anytime he wants.
Morgan County as a whole received nearly $20 million from Governor Bentley’s ATRIP program. Around $15 million of that will go to replace 8 bridges and resurface several roads in the county. Some of these projects have already started. Had it not been for this ATRIP program, it would have taken the county a long time to come up with the funds to replace all of these bridges. The City of Decatur also received several million dollars for projects. I have thanked Governor Bentley several times for these funds. I hope that you will thank him also.
The Morgan County Commission continues to partner with the Morgan County Economic Development Association. Jeremy Nails and his staff do a great job for Morgan County. When I took office in November of 2010, the unemployment rate was around 9.0%. My first individual meeting on my first day, was with Jeremy. I asked him what I could do to help him bring jobs to Morgan County. His request has been very easy for me to do. He said,” Keep us funded and be patient.” As I travel to different meetings across the state, I continually hear praises for Jeremy and his staff. They are known around the state for the work they do. In fact, Jeremy is the President of the Economic Development Association of Alabama, better known as EDAA. With his leadership, we have continued to see growth in Morgan County. During the past year we’ve seen numerous expansions announced totaling over $300 million in investments and will add over 360 new jobs to Morgan County. Some of the companies announcing expansions in Decatur were Alpha Pet, 3M, Linde Gas’s, and Nichols Aluminum. Russell Forest Products expanded their business in Hartselle to add jobs. Valley Rubber of Falkville expanded and added jobs to their operation. Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation invested $4.5 million at their Falkville location to help them run more efficient. Also, Jim n’ Nicks opened a pork processing plant in Eva. They are processing around 1200 hogs per week. Also, C and L Wood Products recently announced an expansion that will add jobs in Hartselle. While some parts of the state have had to sit back and watch, Morgan County continues to grow. Today our unemployment rate is 5.4%.
I’m sure everyone has heard about the Remington expansion in Huntsville that will bring around 2000 jobs to North Alabama. We hope to have several hundred people from Morgan County working for Remington. That should lower our unemployment rate even more.
I want to tell you about some of the things our departments have been doing during the past year. Our EMA activated the Emergency Operations Center for 9 weather events. They successfully passed the Browns Ferry Emergency Drill and Exercise. This total exercise involved over 200 volunteers. They have also successfully completed their second year of our safety program that resulted in a refund of nearly $14,000 in premiums. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, they will be able to release a free APP for smartphones that provide emergency information.
The inside of our Archives Building has received a face lift. New carpet and tile has been installed, lighting has been improved and the original features dating back to 1927 have been restored. Also, the inside was repainted. It now looks like a new building. The Archives has established a website to better serve our citizens. The exhibit of photographs from the Scottsboro Boys collection opened and has received universal praise. John Allison has put together a travelling version of this collection. It has been shown in Mobile, Tuscaloosa, and Jackson. It will soon be shown in Montgomery. They plan to open the Civil War exhibit in the spring and it will be part of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Decatur in October.
The Park and Recreation Department continues to stay busy. In our youth programs for children ages 5 thru 14, we had around 2300 children participating in baseball, cheerleading, softball, tee ball, soccer, and basketball programs.
The MCATS program is a service that is very valuable to our county. In 2013, over 153k one way trips were provided. This is an average of almost 13,000 one way trips per month. The buses operate from 7 am until 5 pm. Morgan County also hosted the Alabama Training Session for Transportation Directors here in Decatur.
Our Commission on Aging continues to provide a valuable service to our elderly. We have nine centers where our seniors can come and receive a hot meal. We also provide Home Bound meals to around 180 seniors daily.
Ricky Brooks has done an outstanding job with our Environmental Department. Last year we completed the transition to a cart system pick up service. We purchased new trucks and furnished every household with a new garbage can. All of this was done without raising the rates we charge our customers. In fact, Morgan County has not raised their garbage rates since September of 2008.
Our Data Processing Department had a very busy year in 2013. They have redesigned our County Website. Today you can go to our website and find just about everything we do at the courthouse. Each department is listed with a link to get you to that department. When we have job openings, an application can be filled out and submitted to us online. You no longer have to bring it to the courthouse. You can pull up all of our financial records. You can see every check we have written just by going to our website. The website is very simple, Morgancounty.com. Check us out when you get time.
Our Community Corrections Department continues to grow. Today they are supervising close to 1400 offenders with 2200 cases. This past year 2046 offenders completed probation, drug court and/or community corrections combined. These are people that would be in our jail if it wasn’t for the Community Corrections Program. This office supervises cases from District and Circuit Court, and the municipal courts of Falkville, Priceville, Somerville, and Trinity. In doing so, they collected over $720,000 in court ordered monies alone. Their Work Release program has helped inmates find employment that enabled them to pay over $13,000 in child support and over $33,000 in court cost and fines. Kim Thurston runs a first class department that has paid off for Morgan County.
Three years ago our Juvenile Services Department was the first in the state to do video hearing with children. As of the end of January, Morgan County has held 196 video hearings and has saved over $19,000 for local police agencies that would have had to transport these children back and forth to court. They have partnered with Decatur Youth Services and implemented the Gang Awareness Program.
Our Board of Registrars recently installed the equipment to start issuing photo ID’s to those individuals that are registered to vote and don’t have a photo ID. They have also installed a new GIS mapping system to help them assign precincts more accurately and also allow them to make changes more easily. Judge Cain worked with them to get this system up and running.
Now I want to talk about my commissioners a little. Each one has been very busy the past year. For the sake of time, I am only going to hit the highlights of the past year. District One Commissioner Jeff Clark spent over $400,000 in resurfacing and striping projects. Widened and resurfaced Cedar Lane, put in new turn lanes at Priceville Elementary School, and also made another lane on Bethel Road at the location of the new Priceville High School. He put up guard rails on Thompson Road and done some drainage improvements on Ben Poole Road. He has also done some work at the site where the new West Morgan High School will be built.
District Two Commissioner Randy Vest has done a lot of work at West Park. He has added a new soccer field, new playground equipment, new pavilion with heated and cooled restrooms, as well as a new press box at the football field. He installed a much needed turn lane at Danville/Neel Elementary School. Randy striped the parking lots of both Danville High School and Sparkman School. He assisted Danville Middle School with site work for a new ball field. Randy is also building a new senior center at Somerville. Randy and his department completed over 400 work orders and installed over 2500 feet of pipe. Randy spent over $1.2 million on paving projects in 2013.
District Three Commissioner Don Stisher has been busy trying to get his new shop ready to move in. He is planning an open house in the spring. He has a number of road projects going on throughout his district. He plans to work with the Town of Falkville in rebuilding Buster Road. With the growth in their Industrial Park, this road will have to be rebuilt to handle the traffic. Also County Road 35 in Eva is scheduled to be resurfaced to the Cullman County line. He plans to remove his old shop building and construct a new facility that will accommodate community meetings as well as serve as a voting precinct. He hopes to finish the Wilhite Bridge project in the early summer.
District Four Commissioner Greg Abercrombie has had a very busy year. His crew has hauled over 3000 loads of dirt into his new park, Brindlee Mt. Park. He is almost finished with his new senior center that he is building at Union Hill. This will be a great addition to the community. He plans to let the community use it as a community meeting place. He spent around $300,000 on resurfacing projects in 2013. Greg has volunteered to help Brewer High School remove their old field house so a new and bigger one can be constructed. Greg always has a project going on in his area.
As I start toward the end of this speech, I want you to know that we have four very good commissioners. These four men never fail to answer the call of service when they are asked. I am proud to serve with them. Most of you know the history of our commission in years past. It was not good. People had lost respect for our leaders. When I took office in November of 2010, I made a pledge to change that. I met with our commissioners and asked each of them to work together and do what they thought was best for Morgan County. I asked them not to have personal agendas but to focus on Morgan County. I pledged to them that I would do the same. For almost 40 months of meetings, our commission has had only one vote that was not unanimous. That doesn’t mean that we always agree on everything. What it does means is that your commission is working together to build up the reputation and protect the integrity of our county. When someone thinks of Morgan County, we want them to think good thoughts. When a business is doing research on Morgan County to see if they might want to locate here, we want them to see good things about how we all work together to make Morgan County a great place to live and raise a family. Yes, I am proud to serve with your commissioners.
In closing, I want to thank you for allowing me to serve as your Chairman of the Morgan County Commission. It is a great job and I truly love working for the people of Morgan County. I hope that you will allow me to serve you for many years to come. Thank you again for coming this morning. I hope you have a great day and may God continue to bless Morgan County.