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Commission hears MCEDA update; approves abatement

Marengo County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA) Executive Director Chris Bontrager spoke about his first four months on the job and what is upcoming for the organization during a Marengo County Commission meeting held in Linden on August 8. He also spoke about Two Rivers Lumber Company, which is scheduled to open this fall in Demopolis.

Bontrager said he has been evaluating the strengths and weakness of the office and how to best promote cities and communities in the county.

The director also said he has spoken with major industries already in the county to find out their concerns and solve some of their problems, describing the experience as “enlightening.”

Bontrager unveiled a new logo for MCEDA that highlights Marengo County and the neighboring river system and said a new website is being developed that will provide links to local sites.

The commission voted to approved a tax abatement for Two Rivers Lumber Company for an expansion project developers believed would be in the best interest in the company as explained by Bontrager.

This expansion project will add another 35 jobs, giving the new company 90 total. As for the abatement, it reflects a capital investment of $5.76 million and covers all non-education taxes and all sales and use taxes on new equipment purchases.

Marengo County Probate Judge Laurie Hall was on hand to demonstrate the new electronic poll book to be used starting with the primary election for the U.S. Senate seat on August 15.

Hall showed how the new system eliminates the need for the black book poll workers used to write down voters’ names. The new electronic poll books are especially equipped to preventing voters from crossing party lines in primary and runoff elections.

In July, the commission approved the purchase of 12 of the electronic books for use at the polling places with the most voters with the expectation of buying the needed poll books for the rest of the polling stations before the 2018 election cycle.

Other voting action taken by the commission included accepting the low bid of $5,485.52 from Phillip Myers to pressure wash the courthouse, annex and jail and the appointment of Fred Moore to the West Alabama Mental Health board, filling Al Garrett’s vacated position.

Several guests were on hand for public comments during the hearing including Paul and Kim Duhe, six-year residents of the county, who expressed concerns over the condition of County Road 33 and asked when or if it would be repaired.

Kim opined on how the “Band-Aid” approach to fixing the road hasn’t worked. Traffic cones have been set up at one spot, and traffic now is forced to one lane since the cones take up most of the roadway. The situation is especially critical since the site is on a hill.

“It makes my stomach hurt” at the thought of a head-on collision with a log truck,” said Duhe.

County Engineer Ken Atkins said the cones had been moved since his crew placed them and they would be relocated immediately. Atkins also said work on the road cannot be done until the rains slack off.

Becky Saunders, representative of the Liberty Learning Foundation, announced the program would be expanding to all schools in Marengo County and will service 750 students in the second and fifth grades.

“We want support from the community because it means so much to the children,” Saunders said. “The Liberty Learning program is a way to ‘teach, inspire and empower’ future citizens ‘to be the next great Americans.’”

Saunders asked the commission to consider financial support for county schools. Commissioners familiar with the program in Demopolis said it was a worthy program, and the Commission will consider including it in the budget for next year.

The total cost for students in the county is $25,000 which comes to $36 per child. The Liberty Learning Foundation does receive corporate funding, but still relies on local help.

A hearing for the 2017-2018 budget has been set for August 29 at 4:30 p.m. The next regular commission meeting is scheduled for Sept. 12 at the Marengo County Courthouse.

(This article originally appeared in the Saturday, August 12, print edition of the Demopolis Times.)