Local towns optimistic about growth
Franklin County’s towns and cities have had an eventful 2012 and 2013 looks to be a big year as well with tourism opportunities, industrial development prospects and other plans just on the horizon.
The town of Hodges might be small but there’s nothing small about the new Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park that officially got up and running this past year.
When completed, the park will include over 55 miles of equestrian, walking, hiking and biking trails; a 160-acre campground; an equestrian center and an arena for entertainment.
The town is currently finishing up Phase I of the project, which includes 15 miles of the trail, the day-use pavilion, two bathrooms and the exit and access roads.
Hodges Mayor Ed Crouch said in 2013, the town will focus on Phase II, which includes the equestrian center and the camp sites that they hope to complete by the spring of 2013, and Phase III, which will focus on the arena, the cabins and the remainder of the trails.
“The economic study we had conducted six years ago to see what we could do to improve tourism and economic development in our area showed that an equestrian trail would be the way to go for Hodges,” Crouch said.
“All the years of hard work, planning, meeting, retooling, rescheduling and going to and from the drawing board have all been worth it.
“We see what a great asset this will be to our town and to the county as a whole. We see how much people will enjoy this place and how it will be a place for families and friends to all come together.
“It’s just great to see all the things you hoped and dreamed the project would be actually becoming a reality.”
Crouch told representatives from Sen. Jeff Sessions’ office and Rep. Robert Aderholt’s office in November that he hoped to work with their offices as well as other agencies and organizations to continue moving forward with the project in the new year.
“If we cooperate and work together as a team, I don’t think there’s a way we can fail with this project,” Crouch said. “There is just too much potential for it to be great.”
Just a few miles down the road from Hodges, the town of Vina is looking to their newly completed spec building to bolster the economic and industrial prospects in their end of the county.
The 42,000 square-foot spec building was completed in August after several years of planning and construction, and Vina Mayor D.W. Franklin said he was excited about the prospects.
“I just hope the next time we all gather here we will be watching people at work,” Franklin said at the dedication ceremony on Aug. 30. “When someone moves into this building it will help all of us in Franklin County and Marion County.”
The city of Russellville saw a change in leadership as former District 5 councilman David Grissom was elected to serve as the city’s new mayor in August.
After being elected, Grissom said he understood his new position comes with a great deal of responsibility, but after serving as the councilman for District 5 for the past four years, he said he is familiar with where the city currently stands and where it needs to be in the future – but he doesn’t plan on doing this alone.
“To effectively run a city government, I believe you need to have everyone from the mayor to the council to the department heads to the employees working together,” Grissom said.
“I don’t ever want it to feel like the mayor or the council are the ones ‘running’ this town. This town belongs to the citizens of Russellville and I want to always keep that in mind when we make decisions.”
Grissom said there were several key areas he hoped to focus on in 2013 and for the remainder of his term, one of which is job creation and retention in the city.
“I want to work with the industrial boards to find ways to retain the industry we already have and ways we can attract more industry and jobs that will be good-paying jobs our citizens will benefit from,” he said.
“We hope those jobs and industry can be here in Russellville but if the county as a whole prospers, the city of Russellville will, too.”
Grissom said he also planned to make it a priority to work with the city schools to ensure they remain a valuable asset to the community.
“Our school system is something we have always been proud of and something people always notice when they are looking to relocate to this area,” Grissom said. “I plan to work closely with Superintendent Rex Mayfield and make sure we are doing all we can for our schools.”
Grissom will also be focusing on the city’s financial situation, which was worse than what the previous council thought it was going into the election season.
After the Nov. 19 council meeting, the city was actually going to be overdrawn on funds so the council voted to approve a temporary financing agreement to establish a line of credit for $500,000 for six months at 2.5 percent interest from CB&S Bank to get the city through that billing cycle.
To deal with these leaner financial times, Grissom said he and the city council, as well as the department heads and city employees, would be establishing a budget and doing all they could to get revenue back up in 2013.
“When I ran for office, I talked about the teamwork it would take to run this city effectively, and that’s exactly what we’ll do – we’ll work together as a team from the city council and myself to the department heads down to the employees,” Grissom said.
“No, this isn’t an ideal situation to be in, but we’ll make the cuts we need to make and get the city back where it needs to be.”
The town of Phil Campbell also saw a change in leadership as the town elected Steve Bell to pick up where former mayor Jerry Mays left off.
Bell said Mays and the previous council already had many plans and policies in place that seem to be working for the city, so he doesn’t foresee any major changes in 2013.
“Really, the citizens of Phil Campbell will just see a lot of the same activities taking place that were taking place before, because I’ll be assuming the role of managing what’s already in place,” Bell said.
“Obviously, the biggest thing the town is still having to deal with is the recovery from the tornado, and the [previous] leadership has done an excellent job in that area. We’ll just continue to move forward from where we are now.”
Bell said even though there aren’t any major problems with the way the town of Phil Campbell has been run in the past, there is always room for improvement, which is what he plans to strive for during the coming year and the remainder of his administration.
“No matter how good something may be, you can always make it better,” he said. “There are definitely some issues that we need to address such as the problem of maintaining the vacant lots we see scattered throughout the town.
“We have a lot of people who are rebuilding and cleaning up their property, but we also have a lot of absentee property owners who are letting their lots grow up because they either moved away or simply aren’t here to maintain them.
“This presents a problem because the lots become an eyesore in a town that’s trying to rebuild and come back stronger and more beautiful than before.
“Issues like this are just things that the new administration will have to address so we can continue to make improvements to our town.”
Bell said overall, the outlook for Phil Campbell in 2013 is promising.
“We have business moving into our industrial park, construction will begin soon on our new high school, the public housing rebuild is near completion, many homes have been rebuilt and are being rebuilt – If it wasn’t for the people of this town, most of this progress wouldn’t be taking place, so I definitely encourage their continued involvement in what we have going on,” he said.
“We’re building back strong and I’m excited to see what the next few years hold for the town of Phil Campbell.”
One city leadership that remained stable and unchanged going into the new year is the leadership in the city of Red Bay.
Mayor Bobby Forsythe and all five council members ran unopposed in the municipal election and were re-elected to serve another term.
The city has several projects they’ll be working on in 2013, such as tourism opportunities, including the potential for Red Bay to be added as a stop on the Alabama Scenic River Trail and hosting the traveling Smithsonian exhibit that will stop in the city in September 2013; local improvement, which includes the finishing of Heritage Park, the city’s newest place for gathering and entertainment; and economic development in the form of the ongoing work at Red Bay’s industrial park, the West Franklin Regional Industrial Park, and supporting the city’s existing businesses.
“We have a great group here that wants good things for our city and we have a great group of employees who work for the city,” Forsythe said.
“Whatever project it is that we work on, we work on it together and strive for compromise and understanding so we can make the best decisions for the city of Red Bay as a whole.
“Our goal the past four years has been to put the city’s needs first, and I’m proud of the progress our city has seen in recent years. We hope to continue that progress in the new year and I look forward to what 2013 has in store for Red Bay.”