Home / News / Gadsden set to spend $2.2 million for Public Works equipment

Gadsden set to spend $2.2 million for Public Works equipment

Dec 19, 2023Dec 19, 2023

"It's time to face the truth and pay the piper."

That's how Gadsden City Council President Kent Back on Tuesday summed up the equipment situation at the Public Works Department, which is about to send the city dipping into its "savings account" once more.

Interim Public Works Director Howell Mathews at the May 30 precouncil meeting called that situation about as "dire" as he's seen in 30 years as a city employee, the result of keeping (and patching) equipment long past its useful life, sometimes as long as four decades, instead of recycling new items into the mix.

Mathews submitted a proposed list of new equipment he said was desperately needed for his department to keep functioning — to be able to assist city residents who call on it, or the mayor's office, or council members for help. The price tag totaled $2.8 million, and Mathews said there was nothing "frivolous" on the list.

Subsequently, the council's Public Works Committee took a closer look at that list and, according to Chairwoman Dixie Minatra, revisited the department's needs and tried to pare the request down to "equipment that could actually be purchased and received in the next three to four months."

Minatra said they’ve verified what is available, and the new price tag is $2.2 million. The money would be taken from the city's unassigned General Fund balance; the council will vote on the move at next week's regular meeting.

Mayor Craig Ford said that balance currently stands at $25,780,000; it should ideally be between $20 million and $25 million.

"All this, as Howell described last week, is equipment that we feel we need in order to efficiently do what the Public Works Department does," Minatra said, pointing out that includes garbage, trash and debris pickup and other assorted services that impact every resident, every day in Gadsden.

She said the aged, often out-of-service equipment — Mathews noted last week that some of the trucks have the equivalent of a million miles on them — "is affecting not only our efficiency but the morale of our employees at Public Works."

The list now includes:

• Two loader (grapple) trucks

• Two garbage trucks: one regular, one mini

• Two dump trucks

• A leaf machine

• Two Caterpillar excavators: one full size M315F, one mini 309CR

• A scissor lift

• A broom/milling attachment for a Cat skid steer

• A jackhammer/grappling attachment

Mathews last week told the council that he had to scramble that very day to find work for three Public Works employees to do because their trucks were out of service. Mayor Craig Ford on Tuesday noted that he’d contacted Mathews about various requests from council members whose constituents were seeking assistance, and was told that the department couldn't get to all of them because it had 20 employees he didn't know what to do with because of equipment being broken down.

"I visited them and that was the truth," Ford said. "They had them picking up trash at the lot."

His response was stark and stern. "We’re doing the (Fiscal 2024) budget right now to present to the council," the mayor said, "and we’re either going to cut 20 slots in Public Works, because we’re not going to have people sitting around, or we’re going to have to buy the equipment to put them to work."

Ford said if jobs were cut, it would mean even longer time frames for meeting people's requests for work.

"The two previous administrations’ mentality was ‘don't purchase equipment, keep repairing and repairing," he said. "(Albertville Mayor) Tracy Honea is a friend of mine, and he says they rotate equipment every three to 10 years. They maintain the value of the used equipment, and they use that to purchase new equipment. It's a good practice, but it's going to take some time for us to get there."

Minatra said the city already is in the process of selling old equipment that was being kept around for parts — and Back noted that parts are becoming increasingly difficult to find when the item being repaired is 25 to 40 years old.

"We’ve squeezed every bit of that toothpaste out of the tube," he said.

Council member Jason Wilson pointed out the potential savings from having new equipment with warranties, instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year trying to keep old stuff functioning.

The city has used $4.7 million of its unassigned balance, Wilson noted, with the largest chunk ($1.7 million) going toward the purchase of land at the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport for an industrial development project that will create jobs.

He said it takes roughly $5 million a month to keep the city running, which means there's about four months’ operating expenses in the unassigned balance; the generally accepted standard is three to six months.

Wilson said when unexpected and unbudgeted but necessary expenses come along, that "savings account" is a way to fund them, but added, "We will never spend that account down below four months."