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January 26, 2013

County official touts courthouse renovations, road dept. efficiencies (with video)

CULLMAN — After losing a portion of its roof during the 2011 tornadoes, the Cullman County courthouse has gone through more than a few phases of repair and construction the past two years. But, within the next few months, officials say the downtown staple should have a whole new look.

County attorney Heath Meherg offered an update on the renovation at the State of the City and County Friday, speaking on behalf of County Commission Chairman Kenneth Walker. Walker and the county’s two associate commissioners were unable to attend due to prior engagements.

“It took some damage in 2011, but as you can tell driving by, the outside is nearly complete,” Meherg said of the courthouse. “A landscaping bid just went out and it’ll be about 45 days from that to get some of that work wrapped up. But we look forward to having it complete so it can be the centerpiece of Cullman County.”

Meherg also offered an update on the county’s budget, which has shrank a bit in recent years due to the economy, but still totals $46.5 million. Though the administration has had to shed some jobs during the recession, Meherg likened the changes to how industries develop a more efficient approach when faced with challenges. He cited a reorganization of the road department as one example.

“For example with automobiles becoming more efficient, you get a decrease in your gasoline tax, and as the county moves forward we have to become more efficient,” he said. “The county is under a district system, with an east and west side road department. One thing we looked to do is move it to a district system, because you often have duplication of equipment. We have legislation in the works to let us go fully to a unit system so we can eliminate those duplications and show some savings to the county.”

Meherg noted the county’s Stony Lonesome OHV park continues to grow, drawing a regional and national crowd for rides and events.

“We’re in negotiations with a UTV event from last year to try and get those events back to the park, and we also want to have monthly rides at night throughout the entire year,” he said. “That’s shown some pretty big interest from around here and from all over the state. By doing that we’re creating lodging revenue, and we want to make sure everyone knows the park is there and we want to use it to the best of our abilities.”

The county’s CARTS program, which provides transportation to thousands of local residents, is also getting an upgrade this year. The department plans to purchase 15 new trolley-themed buses this year, to go along with 15 more that were purchase last year. Ideally, Meherg said the county would like to update the aging bus fleet that many residents and senior citizens depend on.

Meherg also noted a few minor initiatives, including updated county websites that are now accessible from mobile platforms. He also touched on the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office’s purchase of a new property for storage, and the installation of a 2,000-square-foot “splash pad” at Sportsman Lake Park.

 

* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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