By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
When the mayor and I got together, 2024 had been with us for a little over 48 hours, and there was much to talk about. Mayor Ronnie came bounding in, and as much as the holiday break had been needed, it was good to be “back after it.” Public safety is always the highest priority, because without it, all the other things that make a city “sing” are “off key.” For the purpose of this discussion, public safety had a new sub-category: connectivity. There are several road projects that are on the docket for 2024 that need to be completed in order to take pressure off of Hwy 72 and Hwy 31. With a new hospital in the Huntsville Hospital system slated for the Tanner area, connected roads will make it possible for first responders to get into neighborhoods quickly and not have to drive way out of their way. As Mayor Ronnie said, “When it’s a heart attack or stroke, every second counts.” The connection between Cloverleaf and Hwy 31 as well as the road from Chick-fil-A over to Forrest are two such projects.
“We have received a grant that is going to build a sidewalk from Elm that goes all the way to Athens High School,” said the mayor. Other projects will be a new Utilities Customer Service Center down near Mac’s on South Jefferson, and in addition to all the drainage and infrastructure work, Vine Street will get a sidewalk. Finishing the Swan Creek Park (Make-A-Way) project is a goal, as well as Sunrise Park on Pryor. “Oh, and there will be more green spaces and walking trails as well,” he said.
We moved on to the topic of education, another important aspect of a community’s sense of connectivity and quality of life. “Julian Newman School is being renovated, and we are going to need to go to the bond market to get the rest of the financing,” said the mayor. He added, “The flood areas are also getting taken care of.”
There is a new fire station getting under way, and in addition to the hospital in Tanner, there will also be a police station and firehouse. The general fund budget of 44.7 million dollars has been approved, and one of the tasks for 2024 will be to distribute appropriations to the more than 20 agencies such as Family Resource Center and United Way, and are in the process of being decided.
Later this winter will be the State of the City breakfast, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and held once again at the Athens State University gym.
But what had us the most excited, as important as all of the things discussed above, was the Martin Luther King celebration of essays and art created by local students. The annual MLK march will be on Monday, January 15 at the courthouse and will go to the Veterans Museum where the contest will be held. I read one of the essays, a stirring piece that I believe would have made MLK smile. It was about the need for love in our community, and astutely made the case for what we all know to be true: without love, we are nothing.
Speaking of nothing, there was nothing left to do but pray, and so we did. And then, it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner