City discusses designating certain areas for races

The focus of this month’s meeting of the New Albany Board of Aldermen shifted from sub-standard housing problems to growing pains because of a specific type of public event: runs.
While condemnation processes are going on concerning several properties around town, some have been resolved and other are not due for action until the June board meeting.
Mayor Tim Kent told the board he has been receiving complaints from merchants and residents about the increasing number of runs in the downtown area, particularly those that shut down much of Carter Avenue two Saturdays in a row as well as blocking many other streets.
“This is a problem we won’t solve tonight,” Kent said. “But it is wrecking the police department budget with overtime and they can run in the parks and tennis area.”
Kent noted that the high school holds all its cross-country runs in the sportsplex and river park areas with good results and virtually no interference to other activities around town. “But the others are getting to be a problem,” he added.
He proposed letting City Attorney Regan Russell draw up a rough draft of an ordinance governing runs in the city. One suggestion was to require a minimum number of entrants (apparently one recent run required more people to police than there were runners). Another concern was the increasing amount of paint on city streets marking directions and distances. “Maybe we could have an ordinance against painting on the street,” one official said.
One of the spectators, Terry Young, said he is a runner and doesn’t think painted marks on streets work well, anyway, that signs and volunteer guides are more effective.
Another suggestion to limit runs or at least keep it to only larger runs was to begin charging for a run permit. Mayor Kent said that now he often doesn’t know about a run until after the fact; no one asks permission other than perhaps seeking police help, they just do it. Fees could help offset the cost of police officers’ overtime, it was suggested. Fire Chief Steve Coker said runs often cause problems for his department because they don’t learn of blocked streets until the last minute, if at all.  While fire trucks will go through the middle of a run if they have to, they would prefer not to, of course, he said.
The general sentiment seemed to be to leave the Tallahatchie RiverRun alone because of its history, popularity and the difficulty of the course. It also appeared the Amanda Price Memorial Run would not need to be changed because it is not downtown and also the number of entrants has reduced significantly.
Russell is expected to propose an ordinance dealing with the problems mentioned and restricting all other runs to the park. Marketing and tourism director Sean Johnson volunteered to handle run applications through his office because he needs to know they are going on anyway.
Concerning the sub-standard structures issue, code enforcement officer Baron Baker did provide an update.
Baker said not a lot had happened recently concerning the various condemnation processes the city is involved in.
The condemned structures at 603 Highland and 414 Camp are both gone, he said, but there has been a delay in demolishing the two small duplexes at 209-15 Oak. He said the same contractor who removed the two previously mentioned structures has been hired but he has been helping deal with damage in Tupelo. Still, Baker said the Oak Street structures should be gone by the weekend.
In other cases in progress, Baker said the owner of the 201 Box Cove house had obtained repair permits and has until June 3 to make the repairs. The other hearings that were continued to or set for the June 3 meeting are still set and Baker said the owners should have received all their notifications by now. They are at 901 S. Hilldale, 637 Ridgeland, 1093 Bratton Road and 401 S. Central.
Union County Development Association Executive Director Phil Nanney brought the board up to date on several industrial development issues that receiving attention.
He reported that the city street commissioner had gotten the area around the Martintown Industrial Park cleaned up and that ground also will be broken soon for the new access road to Newport Furniture from Glenfield Road.
Nanney also filled in city officials about topics of concern by local industry CEOs at the monthly UCDA breakfasts. “Their number-one concern is traffic flow,” he said. Nanney added that the group is looking at ways to improve the intersection at West Bankhead and Glenfield Road, which affects several industries and, indirectly, the elementary school area.
“It’s something we desperately need to look at,” Nanney said, noting the problems with school buses plant workers being delayed by trains, as well as fire and other emergency personnel having no direct access to that part of town when trains are present.
A concern in the Hwy. 30 West area is the need to adjust timing for traffic lights, Nanney said, and Mayor Tim Kent said that request has already been made six months ago, but with no word back yet.
A roundabout was discussed as a possibility to aid traffic flow in the Hwy. 30 West area, but it was not clear how drivers would respond or whether large trucks would be able to negotiate such a design.
Finally, Nanney said, the two other main concerns by industry officials is the need for skilled craftsmen and the need to improve worker accountability. Both these are being looked at with some plans discussed.
Light, gas and water manager Bill Mattox gave a brief report on the well-drilling effort at the sportsplex after Mayor Kent asked about the length of time it has been there.
Mattox said the usual procedure is to drill a test well and once the production appears adequate to install the permanent well.
But in this case, Mattox said, early tests looked so good that the company decided to skip the test well and go ahead with the permanent installation. Once that was started, the drillers found the well was not as efficient as expected, meaning the water was limited and the pump could not be run for long periods. He said they found mud was clogging the screen around the well about 100 feet down and they have been trying to essentially suck all the mud out. That’s the gray-looking material in ditches around the site that looks something like concrete.
This should eventually work, Mattox said, and assured the board that the drilling company is more eager to complete the job than anyone else. That’s because what they are doing means the city only paid for a test well, about $150,000 compared to the full approximately $500,000 cost. The longer it takes, the more money the drilling company is out, he said.
“It usually only takes two or three months,” Mattox said. “The derrick has been there since November.” He added that the company will clean up all the mud and the only thing remaining will be a building to house the pump, about 10 by 20 feet.
In his report, tourism and marketing director Sean Johnson said that the tourism tax collected in February was $51,332, up slightly over last year and $10,000 more than the previous month. Retail sales for the period were up six percent, he said.
He told aldermen he had sent in an application for Hwy. 30 West to become a part of the state and national Scenic Byway program, and that Mississippi Department of Transportation officials told him things look good for acceptance.
Johnson said grant applications have been submitted for help with this year’s Tallahatchie RiverFest, next year’s Freedom Celebration and for an Enchanted Christmas program that would include a lighted tour, probably through Tallahatchie Trails.
He said officials from the Appalachian Regional Commission and other agencies will be in New Albany to announce and present a $20,000 sustainable communities grant. New Albany is one of only four cities among 64 applications to receive one of the grants, which will be used to improve the area around the farmers’ market and possible add bike or walking paths.
Johnson said he had added a third billboard on Hwy. 78, this one near Hickory Flat advertising New Albany as a stop for gas and other necessities. He said the design will switch to promote the RiverFest in August and the other two will switch to promote holiday sales here.
He said he continues his social media promotions and has ads or stories in several regional tourism-related publications. New rack brochures have been printed and already distributed to hotels and various retail establishments. More will be distributed and he also is planning a folder for tourists, recruiters and developers to use.
In other business:
• Planning and zoning administrator Mike Armstrong told aldermen a request to rezone property at the intersection of Hwy. 30 West and Ray Street was approved by the city planning and zoning committee Monday. The plan is to have a church on the property but the approval was contingent on not having direct access to Ray Street at this time.  A public hearing on the request will be held at the next regular city board meeting at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 3.
• Fire Chief Steve Coker said his department is nearly through with its annual fire hydrant checkup program and that the new automatic insulated engine bay doors are being installed at Station One. “The first three area in but there is a delay,” he said, because the company is helping deal with tornado damage in Tupelo. “They should be done here by next week,” Coker said, and added that progress is being made in studying how to upgrade interior lighting at the stations.
• Aldermen approved paying two months’ worth of invoices for the ongoing water system project partially funded by the USDA. One set included$15,083.96 to Professional Engineering Services, $26,106 to Paul Smithey Construction and $106,495 to Phoenix Fabricators for the elevated tank. The second set included $51,157.50 to Parks and Parks Well Service, $13,280.71 to Paul Smithey Construction and $5,605 to Phoenix Fabricators. Light, gas and water department manager Bill Mattox said all the work had been done satisfactorily as listed.
• Mayor Kent asked the board to vote for issuing a proclamation honoring the New Albany High School tennis team for winning the state championship three years in a row and this year not losing a court. Aldermen agreed and attorney Russell will draw up a proclamation.
• Before adjourning, the board went into executive session regarding a possible land acquisition but no action was taken.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the board of aldermen will be Tuesday, June 3, at 5:30 p.m.