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Local leaders discuss ‘State of County’

The coronavirus pandemic continues to affect most aspects of daily life and government in no exception.

On Thursday morning, the Pike County Chamber of Commerce held its annual State of the County town meeting. However, like so many events, the meeting was virtual instead of a live, sit-down meeting with constituents. The chamber had four of Pike County’s elected leaders scheduled for the conference, but Rep. Wes Allen was unable to participate in the meeting because he contracted COVID-19.

Pike County Economic Development Corp. President Chase Cobb said he talked with Allen on Wednesday and said the county’s representative in the Alabama House was recovering well. Cobb said Allen filled him in on some details to report during the State of the County meeting.

Cobb said Allen reported that the state’s budgets, both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund, were in good shape and would likely be passed in two weeks when the legislature returns from spring break.

Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, had sponsored a gambling bill that would let people vote on a lottery, casinos and sports betting. However, Marsh’s bill fell two votes short of getting a 3/5th majority vote in the Senate and the bill died there. But, Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springfield, was sponsoring a lottery bill in the Senate as well.

Cobb said Allen thought the comprehensive gambling bill was dead for the session, but said the lottery bill appeared to be gaining momentum.

After Cobb filled viewers in on Allen’s message, Brundidge Mayor Isabell Boyd spoke about where her town stood.

She said  Brundidge had a population of roughly 2,000 people and the city had about a $10 million annual budget to work with.

Boyd said the big news in Brundidge was the city had started a small business incubator with the help of a United States Department of Agriculture grant. The incubator has spots for six start-ups and Boyd said all six were currently full.

“We have businesses for hair and makeup, floral and T-shirts,” Boyd said. “People can come in and start their business and see if this is what they want to do. We want to encourage these businesses so they can grow and move into a building downtown.”

Boyd said the city would hold a ribbon cutting for the business incubator on March 23 at 1 p.m.

Boyd said Brundidge had also hired a new police chief, Marquez James, who is also a Troy University alumnus.

She said the city had partnered with Troy Regional Medical Center and will administer 200 COVID vaccines on Saturday. In addition, she said, Pike Drugs was also administering vaccines.

After Boyd spoke, Troy Mayor Jason Reeves talked about how the city had fared during the pandemic.

“We’re at the one-year point where I made my first statement about COVID,” Reeves said. “Looking back, it has taken a terrible human toll we have all felt. I wouldn’t have believed, from a business standpoint, that our businesses would have thrived. We have an incredible amount of growth related to construction and new business growth. We have a lot of industrial, residential and commercial growth. That growth is of vital importance for the long-term vitality of our community.”

Reeves said there had been a lot of interest in when the new shopping center, Trojan Marketplace, located across from Troy Regional Medical Center would open. Reeves said the first shop would likely open in about two weeks with more shops opening in the next six weeks.

Reeves said the unemployment rate in Pike County was also very low, with only 550 people filing for unemployment in January. He said with existing, planned industrial expansions, there would be more than 550 jobs created during the course of the year.

Reeves said there were challenges ahead in workforce development, jobforce development and quality of life improvements. He also said bridging the gap for students who lost nearly a year of school was also going t o be a challenge.

Reeves said it was important for everyone to work together for the betterment of Pike County.

“What’s good for one of us, is good for all of us,” Reeves said. “Economic development doesn’t stop at the city limits. Cooperation is important as we move forward and create jobs.

“As we move past COVID into the new normal, I’m excited about our future. Troy stands ready. And we want to work with [other government agencies] to move Pike County forward.”

Pike County Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan spoke after Reeves and said he was proud of the things the commission had accomplished since he came on board in 2004.

“I’m excited and thankful to the community for all we’ve accomplished as a community,” Sullivan said. “When I came into office, the county was about $1 million in debt and couldn’t make payroll. Today, we have $1 million in the bank and we can make out payroll and do things to move the county forward.”

Sullivan said Commissioner Homer Wright had worked hard on getting a lodging tax for the county. Sullivan said that tax money enabled the commission to establish a reserve fund with a minimum balance to be used for emergency projects.

Sullivan said the big news for the county was a new judicial complex located on Alabama Highway 29 where the old Dunbar Housing Project used to be. Sullivan said the people of the county approved a tax for a jail that generates about $4 million per year. Sullivan said the tax went into effect in 2017 and had generated about $14 million that will be used for the judicial complex.

The commission approved a $36.5 million contract for the judicial complex earlier this month. Construction is scheduled to begin sometime in the next six weeks and he said the complex should be operational in about two years.

He said the complex would also include a 911 center and consolidate all emergency dispatch in the county under one roof.

Sullivan said another big help to the county was Gov. Kay Ivey’s gasoline tax. Sullivan said the county was able to pave 75 miles of roads, replace six timber bridges and improve industrial access to three sites this year. He said the county was also able to stripe 161 miles of roads as well.

Sullivan said the county had about an additional 15 miles of road to pave this year. He said more big news was the county had secured a grant to get paving done in McClure Town. He said he thought residents there would be pleased because the commission had been working for four years to get funding for the project.