by Fred Woods

Criminal activity, including break-ins and burglaries, is an increasing concern to many Lee County rural residents. It is a particular concern to citizens in the Lake Harding/Beulah area of the county where many homes are occupied only on weekends. This has been the primary topic of discussion in several citizen concern meetings organized by District 4 Commissioner Robert Ham and assisted by Sheriff Jay Jones and his staff. Up to five new Neighborhood Watch groups are currently being organized and some existing ones rejuvenated. At this week’s Lee County Commission meeting commissioners authorized up to $1500 for new Neighborhood Watch signs, some for the new watches and some to replace older watch signs.

The commission also authorized the restart of the Lee County Justice Center Project, suspended nearly two years ago in response to adverse economic conditions. At the time of suspension the project design was 90 percent completed with a likely bid release date about 30 days away. County Administrator Roger Rendleman is hopeful that, even with a few additional, but very necessary changes to the 90 percent completed document, bids can be sent out in early to mid-summer, with construction to begin this fall.

The expansion will provide an additional 48, 000 square feet of much-needed space to seriously cramped inhabitants of the T.K. Davis Justice Center, including five judges (three circuit and two district) and their functions, the circuit clerk and her staff and the district attorney and his staff. All these individuals and several of their staffs were on hand to testify as to the dire need for additional space. As Circuit Clerk Corrine Hurst observed, the county’s population when the Justice Center was built 30 years ago was roughly 85,000 people. Today it’s more than 150,000 and we are trying to serve the needs of the larger population out of that 30 year-old space.

The estimated $8 million cost of the expansion will be paid by increased court fees already implemented by the county and earmarked for the Justice Center expansion.

The commission further approved a resolution, at the request of the County Engineer’s office, necessary to remove six county bridges from the annual ALDOT maintenance inspections list. This is a cursory “drive-by” inspection that basically wastes a couple of days of county engineer staff time. The bridges will continue to be regularly inspected by county personnel in accordance with National Bridge Inspection Standards.

In other action, the commission made several board appointments: Beauregard Water Authority (Larry Patterson), Loachapoka Water Authority (Sheri Todd and Randall Adams) and East Alabama Mental Health Board (Bill English and LaFaye Dellinger).

Appointments to the Smiths Station Water and Sewer Authority were once again deferred to give the Authority time to submit a resolution to the county commission asking that the authority’s membership be increased from the present three to five members.

The commission also approved an educational reimbursement for Sgt. Tamara Booth of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.