Shelby County Mayors review state of communities at 2022 Chamber meeting
Published 7:24 am Thursday, February 24, 2022
By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer
The Shelby County Chamber of Commerce held its annual State of Communities luncheon on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 23. The luncheon was held at the Pelham Civic Complex, and allowed members of the public to listen to mayors from all Shelby County cities speak about goals for their individual cities.
Each mayor’s remarks are below:
Larry Riggins – Mayor of Westover
Riggins praised the city of Westover for its considerable progress in job growth through the addition of more businesses. He said while the city of Westover is small, it is dedicated to growth and the positive wellbeing of its citizens.
“The biggest challenge that we have to look at over in our area right now is the school situation with our students,” he said. “I’d like to go on record as saying, our school children are our future, and we want to be on board with trying to do whatever we can possibly do to help our school children in projects that we can afford to do.”
Riggins said the city is open to Westover’s citizens input on continuing to improve the city.
Gary Waters – Mayor of Pelham
Waters discussed the various highs and lows of 2021 for the city of Pelham, the lows being the endurance of three natural disasters in the course of one year.
“We had a tornado in March, we had a flood in May and then we had another flood in October,” Waters said.
Despite the hardships that occurred from the flooding and tornado, Waters said the strength Shelby County became apparent through the aid offered from Pelham’s neighbors, including many of the mayors sitting in the room.
“That’s what good neighbors do,” Waters said.
Waters said the main thing Pelham has remained consistent with is evolving and growing with the times.
One of those changes this year came in the form of a rebranding of the city and amending the city budget toward earmarking emergency funds in the event of another disaster. Through everything, Waters said he is hopeful to the future and listed many exciting things planned for the city of Pelham in coming months.
“The World Games are coming at the Oak Mountain State Park, we’re going to support them how we can,” he said. “We’re going to put decorative LED lights down Hwy 31, and we’re making constant upgrades to the Pelham Civic Complex, and we’re going to focus on bringing more businesses to Pelham.”
Rusty Nix – Mayor of Montevallo
Nix started his allotted time by saying there are a lot of exciting things happening for the city of Montevallo, including the placement of a sidewalk along Hwy 25 thanks to grant funding and a hotel project in partnership with 58 Inc.
“It’s still not finalized yet, but we are back to the table talking,” he said. “The hotel project here in Montevallo is big. A lot of people are saying we aren’t going to be able to support it, but we have probably over 1,000 people in the city on any given Saturday when we have tournaments out at Stephens Park…I really feel like with all the development we’ll be able to support a hotel there.”
Nix said another project in the works is a storm shelter at Stephens Park. Nix calls it a “state of the art” survival shelter that is ADA compliant and can secure roughly 75 people. The city also recently received a $38,000 grant for updated restrooms at the park as well, and Nix said the city is pursuing an ALDOT grant for Morris Crossroads to refurbish the crossroads in anticipation of “major housing developments.”
Brenda Bell Guercio – Mayor of Indian Springs Village
“As most of you know, we are a small city of less than 2,500 population with very little commercialization,” Guercio said. “Now, this type of town is not for everyone, but it is exactly how we like it.”
Guercio said the city’s top priority is to ensure the safety and security of Indian Springs’ residents and promised to “protect from random commercialization and inconsistent spot zoning.”
This past July the city instituted a 2-percent sales tax, the lowest in Shelby County according to Guercio. She said the tax has been able to aid the Indian Springs Valley schools in a prominent way, contributing to over $250,000 back to the schools.
She added that while the city has maintained its small and tranquil atmosphere, they have also added some businesses including a Starbucks, and they intend to grow only as the citizens and the city leaders see necessary.
“If I had to list the biggest challenge of the future, I would say getting young people to volunteer and be involved and carry on this torch,” Guercio said.
John Lyda – Hoover City Council
Lyda spoke on behalf of Hoover’s mayor who was unable to attend the luncheon. Lyda spoke of optimism regarding job growth and the redevelopment of properties such as the Galleria.
“The Galleria is not dead,” Lyda said. “The Galleria sits at the corner of two major interstates in the state of Alabama…we will continue to see high interest in that property and over the next weeks and months you will hear ideas that we are working on to redevelop that campus.”
Lyda also spoke of a project the city of Hoover is pursuing to alleviate some of the traffic issues that plague areas like Hwy 150 and South Shades Crest.
“The next project that we believe is a great economic enhancement for not only the city is what we call the ‘development quadrangle,’ and that encompasses the city of Hoover, Jefferson County, Shelby County and Mayor Puckett and the city of Helena,” he said. “We call it the Futuristic Interstate Exit 8. We have some traffic issues along South Shades Crest and Hwy 150 that we need to get relief from, and we believe an exit at mile marker 8 will give us opportunity to not only help traffic, but be a tremendous economic boost.”
Lyda said the exit would not only aid the city of Hoover, but also surrounding cities and incoming traffic from other states that also experience the traffic issues in the shared area.
Brian Puckett – Mayor of Helena
Puckett’s speech kept along the theme of community and connectivity, saying the city of Helena has spent the past year “placing strategic focus on building the best places our community can have.”
“The safety of our community is critical,” he said. “We have invested over $4 million in capital funding to be injected directly into the fire department. As some of you may know, we have a blue fire truck now, but out of those funds we were able to get new rescue units and we have implemented all of our turnout gear and we have been able to focus on the training of our firefighters.”
Puckett said another accomplishment for this year is the Helena Police Department has partnered with Kulture City to ensure all Helena city employees receive sensory awareness training so they can protect all members of the community efficiently and safely.
He added that the city of Helena has placed a considerable amount of funding toward aiding Helena teachers with their classroom needs, fixing multiple road and traffic issues throughout the city, and updating infrastructure.
“Going into this year, we’re going to continue to build on the success we have, and continue to invest in the best of our future with our comprehensive plan,” Puckett said. “We’re going to continue to build on the success we have and continue to develop and employ programs that focus on the community and connectivity within that community. Connecting our community is today, one day at a time, makes Helena the best place to call home.”
Theo Perkins – Mayor of Harpersville
Perkins opened by saying Harpersville is one of Shelby County’s oldest communities, but that does not mean they are not behind on the times.
“Harpersville has a rich past and a bright future,” Perkins said.
Perkins said the city of Harpersville places an emphasis on the fact that every business counts, and the city works to attract small and large businesses alike to a “business friendly environment.”
“We are working with 58 Inc. to bring more businesses to town,” he said. “Retail specialists have several sites available, and we are also partnering with and donating more to our local schools as well.”
Perkins continued that Harpersville has multiple endeavors that make the city a safe place to live and grow for everyone.
“I would like to take this time to tell you about Klein Arts and Culture at the Wallace House,” he said. “If you pass through Harpersville on Hwy 25, you see this stately house from the 1820’s. I’m proud to be a founding member of an organization that is focused on racial reconciliation through arts and education. Our activities seek to bridge racial divide through dance, poetry and education.”
David Mitchell – Mayor of Columbiana
Mitchell highlighted several new goals the city of Columbiana has planned going into 2022, including plans for 600 to 900 new homes.
“We have broken ground on a development that will constitute a little over 200 homes,” he said. “Hopefully this summer we’ll begin building houses in that particular development, and we’ve had plans approved via the City Council and the Planning Commission to add 375 homes to an existing housing development here in Columbiana.”
In 2021, Columbiana opened several new industrial businesses and retail spaces to grow the economic side of the city, and Mitchell said they hope to add more businesses in 2022 to further evolve Columbiana’s economic development.
“We increased our budget in Columbiana from ’21 to ’22 by more than double, 120-percent,” he said. “We had money in a capital improvement fund, a court fund, a cemetery fund and various other funds, and we weren’t budgeting that much. I felt like if we were going to exercise the appropriate financial control that the city should do, then we should have a plan for all of those funds.”
Tony Picklesimer – Mayor of Chelsea
“The state of our city of Chelsea is still very good,” Picklesimer said. “We are very optimistic about 2022 and the amount of growth that we are seeing in the many areas of our city. I’m very happy to report that 2021 was a very good year for our city. We had growth on many fronts.”
Picklesimer said in the 2020 census Chelsea came up 13 people short of 15,000 in the population which is a 47-percent increase in population from 2010. He said the housing market in Chelsea continues to strengthen, and said the indicators for 2022 point to the continuation of that strength.
“On the commercial side, I’m excited to tell you that the business park I’ve been promising you for the past couple years is finally finished,” he said. “One of my primary goals in my last term as mayor of Chelsea is to bring daytime population, to bring jobs to the city of Chelsea…I look forward to watching this project develop as we go.”
Picklesimer brought up the hot topic of whether or not the city of Chelsea would break apart from the Shelby County school system to begin its own separate school system. He said he and his fellow city leaders will continue to hold public meetings with citizens to discuss the current state and future of the school system and that the subject would be a primary focus throughout the year.
John Graham – Mayor of Calera
“Calera remains to be one of the fastest growing cities in this state,” Graham said. “We have a population now of about 16,000, and our housing market continues to be strong.”
Graham said the city has been involved in creating a new comprehensive plan in the recent months, and this comprehensive plan will be a major upgrade from the previous plan which Graham said was completed in 2009.
“Our business climate continues to be great,” he said. “We have some great potential growth opportunities including in industrial and commercial areas. We like to have jobs available to our citizens for them to work close to their home.”
The mayor of Calera made special mention of the city’s parks and recreation department, citing a considerable increase in youth sports participation, and noted funding being used to update the new Calera High School football practice facility and building new locker and weight rooms.
Revitalization of downtown Calera was also listed as an area of focus for the city’s future goals.
“Our city has really over the last couple of years been really involved with the downtown revitalization,” Graham said. “We have joined with Main Street Alabama, and we’re working hard on our revitalization plans as we speak…we hope the Shelby County Commission and others will be involved with us as we make these changes.”
Scott Brakefield – Mayor of Alabaster
“As far as challenges, we’re all the same in Shelby County,” Brakefield said. “We all battle trains, we all battle construction and traffic congestion, and it would appear we’re all trying to hire the same police officers and fire fighters and garbage truck drivers…but hopefully as we move into 2022, that will get a lot better for us.”
Brakefield said Alabaster is proud of the amount of growth in population and infrastructure that has occurred throughout the city. He then placed an emphasis on how a city must learn to adapt with the amount of growth that occurs and the Alabaster city leaders hope to adapt through major housing developments and projects resolving various traffic issues.
“One of our big projects is the expansion of Hwy 119,” he said. “We qualified for a grant through ALDOT that allows us to expand a certain section of Hwy 119…we’re already trying to set the stage for the second phase of Hwy 119 that will carry that expansion down to our Veterans Park, so we’re super excited for that potential easing of some of the congestion.”
Expansion of community connectivity was a theme Brakefield echoed as he discussed enhancing Alabaster’s various trails systems to make it easier for residents to walk from one park to another. Focusing on education was another topic the mayor said was of utmost importance. He referred to Alabaster’s education system as “the number one economic engine” in bringing new residents to the city, and said the education of Alabaster’s children should always be top priority.