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Decatur to be site of Halloween on the square

The Meigs-Decatur Chamber of Commerce is set to host the Downtown Halloween Night on the Square event this year on Oct. 31.

The event is currently scheduled to take place on Halloween night from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. with free admission.

According to Meigs County Chamber of Commerce Vice President Kristy Kelly-Sewell, Decatur First Baptist Church will also host a Trunk-or-Treat that night as well.

“We will try to coordinate the two events so that the kids can participate in both,” Kelly-Sewell said. “We are really excited to be able to offer this to our community and to our children because it is something that our children look forward to and we can take safety precautions for COVID since it is an outside event, so we are excited to be able to offer this to our community again.”

She believes the event will be safe for the children of the community as everyone will be gathered on the square near the Meigs County Courthouse.

“We are going to have booths set up to give out candy from different organizations and companies,” she noted. “We have had this event in years past. Last year, I think, we didn’t have one because of COVID, but this year the chamber, churches, companies, everyone around the county (plan to) set up and give out candy.”

Kelly-Sewell expects to see a “good turnout” this year due to the community not being able to participate in such an event last year.

“This is something that children love to do, it is free, it is a safe environment to take your children to versus going door to door,” she expressed. “Especially if you are new to the community and don’t know who your neighbors are, so this is a safer way of having Halloween.”

Companies and organizations interested in participating in the event should call the Meigs-Decatur Chamber of Commerce at 423-334-5496.

“I’m excited to work with the chamber all for these types of events,” Kelly-Sewell said. “I wear dual hats as I am also a county commissioner and it excites me that we can offer this to the citizens of our county and our children to offer a good festival in a safe environment.”

Englewood Block Party to return to town's park this year

The Englewood Block Party will return to its traditional location and scope this year as Halloween approaches.

Englewood Church of God is hosting the annual event this year.

Due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the block party was downsized and held at the church instead of its usual location in the park.

“We are very excited, especially to be back at the park,” expressed Englewood Church of God Children’s Pastor Connie Summey. “It will be back to some form of normal. Last year was complicated but we pulled it off.”

Her expectations for this year’s event will be to have more involvement from other organizations.

“We expect to have more churches and businesses involved again this year,” she said. “We hope to get to what everyone has been used to in the past with lots of free hot dogs, lots of free candy, and games.”

She said she hopes the turnout for the event will be equal to or greater than what they have experienced in years prior to the pandemic.

“We have people ready to get out and do things now,” she noted. “We are just trying to get back into the swing of things and hope to get all of the churches and business back together.”

According to Summey this event has a lot of meaning to the Town of Englewood.

“From what I have heard from the police chief and police officers, even different people across the community, this event keeps the crime rate down,” Summey said. “It gives people something fun and safe to do, so we want it to be a community-wide event that supports the community and encourages everybody to be safe and still have fun.”

The event is also a great way for the churches to share their beliefs during the holiday.

“We have an opportunity to share love and kindness and even share about about Jesus to other people without it being overpowering and to people who probably wouldn’t normally come in to our churches,” she expressed. “We love partnering with all of the different churches in the community because I think that all of them feel the same way and want to reach the community for the Lord.”

Summey stated the people who attend the event this year can expect free hot dogs, free candy, a cake walk, costume contest, a train ride for children and more.

“Parking will be in the back on the soccer field this year,” she said. “The road in front of park will be closed so you will have to come in from the other street around us. The police department and the fire department will be helping us route people through.”

Deficiencies found by state comptroller in Englewood investigation

An investigation by the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury into the Town of Englewood has resulted in findings of deficiencies in a couple of areas.

A report was issued as a result of the investigation, which was initiated due to “allegations of malfeasance related to the Town of Englewood,” and it looked into the period of time of Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2019.

The current administration was elected in August of 2020.

According to the comptroller’s office, the investigation “revealed deficiencies in internal controls and compliance from that time period.” Those deficiencies specifically were that the “town did not have sufficient internal controls over purchasing” and that the town “had deficiencies related to time records, which were the result of a lack of management oversight and the failure to follow sound business practices.”

In regard to the the internal controls deficiency, the comptroller’s office alleged that “some purchase orders were missing or issued after the purchase was made and some invoices were paid without documentation that goods had been received.”

According to the report, “sound business practices dictate that proper documentation should be on file to support all purchases and should include evidence that goods have been received or services have been rendered before invoices are paid. The failure to maintain adequate documentation increases the risks of unauthorized purchases.”

On the second deficiency, in relation to time records, the comptroller’s office alleged the following oversights:

Some timecards did not reflect weekly dates, some timecards did not reflect the days’ dates, some timecards were missing; therefore, some payroll disbursements had no supporting documentation, some timecards were not signed by the employee, some timecards were not signed by someone in a supervisory role to document approval, some timecards did not reflect lunch hours taken, some timecards did not have the daily hours totaled, some timecards did not have the weekly hours totaled, some timecards reflected overtime hours in the weekly total but did not detail the number of hours per day or the day the overtime hours were worked, Some payroll reports reflected more hours were paid than the hours listed on the timecard

The report also claimed that “the town manager, who was paid hourly and reportedly received a large amount of overtime, had no one in a supervisory role approve his hours. There were instances where the town manager signed his own timecard to show accuracy for the hours presented on the timecard then approved the timecard as being reviewed and correct.”

However, the report also noted that there were not “any discrepancies between timecard hours and the hours he was paid per the payroll reports.”

The report recommended that “sound business practices dictate that payroll timecards should be properly maintained and should be signed by the employee as evidence the time reported is accurate and signed by a supervisor as documentation that the time reported is mathematically accurate and has been approved.”

In October of 2020, Richard Hill, the auditor for the town, was unable to give an opinion on the town’s financial statements from that period due to material weaknesses in internal control and financial reporting.

The results of the investigation by the comptroller were turned over to the office of 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump for review.

Athens Fire Department seeks to bolster its staff

The Athens City Council is being asked to consider action that could add personnel at the city’s fire department.

At Monday’s study session, Athens Fire Chief Brandon Ainsworth presented council members with the details of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program. The program was created to provide funding directly to fire departments to help them increase the number of firefighters available in their communities.

At its inception, the grant program provided 75% of the funding for the positions for the first two years and 35% of the funding in the third year. Last year, this was changed to cover 100% of the funding for three years with no local match required.

According to an Oct. 6 memorandum from Ainsworth to City Manager C. Seth Sumner, “the Notice of Funding for 2021 has not been released. At this time, we are not certain what the requirements will be of the 36-month performance period.”

If approved for the grant, the city would be required to maintain the staffing levels and incur no layoffs during the three-year

period. The city would have 180 days from the date of the grant award to complete the recruitment/hiring process.

The Athens Fire Department (AFD) is considering applying for the grant to fund nine or 12 firefighters. The need for additional staffing was identified in a recent Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) study, as well the city’s recent ISO audit.

The current city budget cannot support this additional staff. In his memo, Ainsworth said the goal would be to maintain the higher staffing level at the end of the grant period. This would increase department staffing from 24 people to as many as 36.

“This grant is an opportunity to get us started where federal government dollars are paying for it and then the city would take over (after three years),” said Ainsworth at the study session.

If awarded the grant, the AFD would be able to add three or four firefighters per shift. Three would staff the city’s ladder truck and the fourth would serve on Engine 1. The city’s ladder truck is currently unstaffed and has an average response time of 16 minutes by off-duty response personnel.

Ainsworth said he expects the grant period to open later this year.

“If it’s something that we’d want to do, I’d like to be prepared,” said Ainsworth in asking the council to allow him to apply for the grant.

Assuming the city is approved for this grant assistance, Ainsworth said it would likely be about a year before the additional staffing could be put in place.

“This is the direction that we know from the staffing study we need to move in for the fire department,” added Sumner.

Sumner noted the the city would need to expand its available bunk space to accommodate the additional personnel. This expansion is included in the initial designs for improvements at city hall. He also noted that the timeline associated with the grant would give the city adequate time to make these improvements.

“It also buys us three years for us to build financial capacity to continue those operations,” said Sumner, referring to the city continuing to fund these potential employees when the grant period expires.

Vice Mayor Mark Lockmiller and Council Member Frances Witt McMahan both expressed interest in continuing to employ these firefighters beyond the grant period. Witt McMahan asked if these positions could be sustainable beyond the initial, grant-funded, three-year period.

Sumner and Ainsworth said they have spoken extensively about this with Finance Director Mike Keith. Sumner said that the city’s growth patterns indicate that the resources could be available to sustain these positions.

“There’s no guarantee, of course … but we feel strongly that this is a good opportunity for us to get to that point in three or four years and we are trending toward that,” said Sumner.

The council appeared to reach a consensus in support of Ainsworth’s pursuit of this grant.