Silverhill moves Heritage Day celebration back to September


SILVERHILL, Alabama — For several years Silverhill’s annual Heritage Day Festival was held the third Saturday in September.

Four years ago, the festival was moved to April to avoid the summer heat and conflicts with fall activities, particularly football.

But now, because of the threat of the Coronavirus, Silverhill officials announced at the council meeting on April 6 that the festival, originally scheduled for April 25, has been moved back to Sept. 19.

Now in its 36th year, Heritage Day was first established in 1982 to celebrate the town’ heritage, primarily Swedish and Czech. In that time, the Festival has twice been canceled, in 2005 after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 caused extensive damage to many of the town’s oak trees which lined Main Street (the festival was briefly moved to Havel Park), and in 2016 the decision was made to move the festival to April of 2017.

The town of Silverhill was founded in 1896 under the direction of Oscar Johnson, head of the Svea Land Company from Chicago. Early Swedish colonists celebrated the popular Scandinavian holiday Mid-Summer Fest, first-mention of which in the town’s history can be found as early as 1904.

Prior to the festival in 2016, the decision was made not to hold the festival in September and move it to April.

Silverhill Mayor Jared Lyles said he also provided an update to council members on the outbreak at the April 6 meeting, including the fact that the town is looking at hiring a service to clean its facilities. They are also looking at ways of minimizing contact between departments within the town employees, Lyles said.

While the parks remain open, all playground facilities within the parks are now closed, he said.

In other business April 6, the council discussed the town’s resurfacing project. While no action was taken at the meeting, Mayor Jared Lyles said it has been decided not to take on paving all of the town-maintained streets at this time.

“Ultimately, we decided that to do that would put the town too close to our debt limit,” he said. When asked if there was added concern that the Coronavirus outbreak puts an added strain on the town’s finances, Lyles said those concerns were brought up during the meeting but that concerns over reaching the town’s debt limit were expressed prior to the outbreak.

After announcing at its Jan. 21 meeting that the town received a $250,000 Rebuild Alabama Grant for road resurfacing in 2020, council members discussed what it would take to repave all the streets under town maintenance.

Alan Killen with Civil Southeast addressed council members Feb. 3, reiterating what they were told by Superintendent of Utilities Scottie Smith at the previous meeting that repaving of the town’s approximately 10 miles of streets would cost around $700,000.

To finance the project over a 10-year period would cost about $51,635 per year, Lyles told council members. Financing over a 15-year period would cost about $37,724.

The town is currently setting aside $25,000 a year for street repaving, Lyles said, and will receive an additional $11,000 in 2020 from a recently passed state gas tax earmarked for infrastructure improvements.

The $250,000 grant will pay for resurfacing projects on First, Second, Third, Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Streets, and South Avenue. The grant would also pay for the widening of some of the streets.

The grant does not cover engineering fees, which should be covered by the $25,000 the town has already budgeted for 2020.

The resurfacing would not include Alabama 104 (Main Street), which would fall under the Alabama Department of Transportation, or County Road 55 (Broad Street), which would fall under the Baldwin County Highway Department’s jurisdiction.

“My only concern here is that we’re not spending all of our money on this and won’t have anything left over for other things that need to be done,” said Council member Bert Jones. “Otherwise, I don’t have a problem with it.”

At its meeting March 2 Lyles said by law the town also has to stay within a debt ceiling which is 20 percent of the total assessed property value of the town, or about $1.4 million. With the town’s current debt, adding the $700,000 project would bring the town’s debt to more than $1 million, Lyles said.

Also on Monday, the council:

•Renewed the town’s contract with Mosquito Control Services for spraying at a cost of $6,912.

•Approved bad debt write-offs for the Utilities Department.

•Discussed a proposal from a new company to provide Internet for town facilities.

•Received a quote for remodeling the lobby at town hall to allow for more privacy for the town’s court clerk. Lyles said more additional information is needed, along with additional quotes before the council makes a decision on the matter.

•Discussed hiring two additional part-time employees for the Utilities Department over the summer. The town is currently not receiving assistance from the Loxley Work Release facility.