In its last regular meeting of the year the Berlin Town Council decided to give up on the idea of using CARES Act funds to provide low-income families with internet service and to also give up on the town tornado siren.
At a previous meeting, Mayor Patrick Bates had floated the ideas of using CARES Act funds to help low-income families in two Berlin subdivisions to get internet access through SPROUT, the Cullman Electric Cooperative's new fiber internet service. The federally-funded CARES Act provides coronavirus relief to communities. Governments have until Dec. 31 to use the funds or send them back to the federal government.
The town has used some of the funds for local schools, sanitation supplies for the town and, most recently, 240 care packages with sanitation items for town residents.
At Monday's meeting, Bates said his idea to use $5,400 of the town's remaining $5,500 to provide internet connections to two subdivisions ran into some legal and logistical challenges. He said SPROUT recommended that instead of providing actual connections, the town consider providing vouchers for service.
He presented the council with three options for providing vouchers, but, with legal questions remaining and time running out, the mayor and council instead decided to once again give funds to three local schools for sanitation supplies.
"That way the money won't have to be sent back and it will be put to good use," said Councilman Jimbo Quick.
The mayor noted, too, that the town has free wi-fi available in the town hall parking lot.
The council also decided to not repair or replace the town's damaged tornado siren but instead look to a grant or other funding to provide households with a weather alert radio.
The tornado siren was damaged by a lightning strike and the town got a quote of $14,000-20,000 to replace it. Bates said he was told it would cost $9,000 just for parts to repair the system.
Citing the age of the siren and the likelihood of it getting hit by lightning again, along with the outdated technology, the council decided to abandon the siren.
"It's not 1999 when the sirens were put in," said Bates. "And lots of people now have phones that give them more targeted information."
The council was not able to come to a decision on the building for the new Farmers' Market and will likely have a special called meeting to approve the vendor once Bates gets answers to some questions the council had.
The town received two quotes for the building, both at around $26,000, but using different materials. The council said they wanted to get the wind resistance factor on both options and make sure the town's insurance carrier would cover the structure.
Bates said a called meeting would be required for the town to stay on track for an April opening of the new farmers' market.
Bates had good news on the town's budget, noting that after the first quarter of the fiscal year, the town is at 37 percent of expected revenues. He said if the census numbers turn out to be more than the 422 residents the town estimated when incorporating, "that would be the best news I've seen on the census. My low revenue budget will be worthless because we'll have overshot it considerably."
In other business, the council:
Approved a $5,348 quote from Cullman County to improve drainage infrastructure in the right-of-way at Hwy 278 and CR 747;
Decided to rent the Community Center for its monthly meeting at $75 on an as-needed basis;
Approved a $400 bonus for town clerk Keirstyn Montgomery;
Approved paying invoices and payroll.