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City to spend COVID relief money on roads, mental health facility

Decatur Daily - 6/9/2022

Jun. 9—The Decatur City Council will use the $10.88 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds that the city received to improve three roads in growing areas, upgrade a park in a low-income area and help create a mental health unit.

The City Council voted 4-0 on Monday night to approve the spending plan for the American Rescue Plan Act money. Councilman Billy Jackson was absent.

The plan features the widening of Modaus Road Southwest, revamping two Upper River Road intersections, enhancing Pines Park and contributing to a planned in-patient mental health facility.

Chief Financial Officer Kyle Demeester, who wasn't in attendance Monday, said at the previous week's work session that the city could spend up to $10 million on government services, replacing lost revenues and capital expenditures.

Councilman Jacob Ladner said he's "proud of the way the City Council is using the (ARPA) money. (State) Sen. (Arthur) Orr said we shouldn't spend the money on projects that will create the need to spend more money, and I don't think we did."

Councilman Carlton McMasters said he "agrees with the plan 110%" because it attempts to address major growth problems. The Upper River Road projects are in his District 3.

"We're trying to be proactive where we can even though we're having to be reactive in some cases," McMasters said. "We want to be more proactive as we deal with our growth."

The council previously discussed using a portion of this money to improve Bibb-Graves Road since the city is building an overpass at Alabama 20 in Limestone County. However, Ladner said the other projects are in growth areas where the need is more immediate.

"I still think we'll do the improvements to Bibb-Garrett, but the developments on the other projects are further (along)," Ladner said. "We've already started the engineering on the three projects."

The city plans to spend $3.3 million on the widening of Modaus Road, from Lexington Avenue to Austin High School. McMasters said the allocation of ARPA money will fund only a portion of the widening project that's been estimated to cost as much as $7 million.

In a related action, the council voted unanimously to hire Pugh Wright McAnally Inc. for engineering and design on the Modaus Road widening for $446,400.

The Planning Commission recently approved a rezoning and a site plan for a planned 432-home subdivision, including 180 town homes, on 80.86 acres off Modaus Road across from Jack Allen Recreation Complex.

The city is also buying 34.2 acres off Modaus Road near Austin High from owner Neal Holland to build a new softball complex.

Hoping to solve current residents' complaints about Upper River Road safety issues amid dramatic growth in the area, Decatur is planning to spend $6.7 million on the road.

This includes $3.7 million to realign the Upper River Road intersection with Alabama 67, and $3 million on improving the Upper River Road intersection with Indian Hills Road.

The Upper River Road area has become a major growth area in the last two years. Two subdivisions of single-family homes are under construction off Old River Road, and a luxury apartment complex is planned off Upper River Road.

Jo-Amrah Dillingham was one of a number of Hickory Hills subdivision residents who spoke out against the apartment complex in April. She was particularly concerned about the traffic problems created by the growth on the two-lane Upper River Road.

But Dillingham was complimentary on Monday of the council spending the ARPA money on Upper Road River improvements. She pointed out the Priceville Town Council also approved in May a 770-home subdivision that's planned off an eastern portion of Upper River Road. Those residents will likely use Upper River Road when traveling west to Decatur.

"I'm so glad this is getting done," Dillingham said. "This is going to be a major road, and it's going to be a problem if you're not proactive. In the nine years I've been here (after moving from Texas), the traffic has increased markedly."

Demeester said the remaining $880,000 has to be spent on two projects.

One involves allocating $600,000 to the Mental Health Center of North-Central Alabama as the city's contribution to a planned 16-bed mental illness residential crisis unit at the site of the former Alabama state trooper building on U.S. 31 South in Decatur.

The Morgan County Commission is also contributing $600,000 and the state is putting in money for this facility that's expected to cost up to $6 million. Construction is planned for 2023.

Demeester said the grant money can be used for "expanding behavioral health services to the city's residents" following the coronavirus pandemic.

McMasters said it's good for the city to contribute to this project, "especially since it's no secret that mental health is inadequately funded in this state."

The final project is $283,767 for upgrades to Pines Park in Northwest Decatur. Demeester said the city can spend the money on this park off Fifth Street Northwest because the ARPA money can be used on "households and communities that were disproportionally impacted by the pandemic."

Demeester said Jackson proposed Pines Park upgrades as one project on which to use the ARPA money. The park is in a low-income area of the city near the Sterrs Housing Project. or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.


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