BAY MINETTE — The Baldwin County Commission voted Tuesday to impose new fees for the reservation of pavilions, use of boat launches and rental of a historic church at Live Oak Landing and Bicentennial Park, against the wishes of at least one commissioner. The commission approved the fee hikes with a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Frank Burt voicing the only dissent.

The vote paved the way for the county to begin charging a $500 usage fee, with a $200 refundable deposit to use the Historic Montpelier Methodist Church at Bicentennial Park, as well as a $75 usage fee for the open air pavilions at Bicentennial Park and Live Oak Landing. The county will also charge $5 for a daily boat launch pass and $75 for an annual boat launch pass at Live Oak Landing.

Burt objected to the new fees, especially the $500 charge to reserve the church, arguing the church has been reserved just nine times in the last 14 months.

“I looked at the agreements when they reserved them, and it is already a commitment. Even though they don’t put up a deposit they have to return the facility to the pre-event condition before they leave,” Burt said. “One question is, have we had occasions where we’ve had to go behind people who have used the pavilion and church at Bicentennial Park and clean it up?

“We are not talking about a great deal of money, so there must be some purpose for wanting this,” he continued. “$75 for an open air pavilion and $300 for use of church for one day, add the $200 deposit and that’s $500 cash if a couple wants to get married at the church. That really seems exorbitant to me.”

Archives Director Felicia Anderson said the purpose of the new fees is to help the county cover operating costs, not to bring in revenue.

“We have on several occasions had to pay overtime for park attendants to clean up after weddings,” Anderson said. “We’ve also had several instances where folks who reserved the church wanted to go in the facility after our standard hours. That has cost us some expense. These nominal fees just cover our expenses.”

During time set aside for public participation, Bromley resident Ricky Richerson questioned whether the county had many expenses it felt it needs to cover when people use an open air pavilion at one of the parks. Commissioner Skip Gruber said the pavilion does have fans and utilities the county must keep up with.

“I just wanted to express my displeasure with the fees, especially with the fees at the open-air pavilion,” Richerson said. “I wish the county had more considerate on the cost of the church. I think the church fee should be as minimal as possible to allow for people to use it without a big up-front expense.”

Burt later addressed the crowd, suggesting most people will probably continue to use the park in the same way, without making reservations ahead of time.

County approves job transfer for Matthew Brown
The county approved, with a 4-0 vote, the transfer of employment for former Eastern Shore MPO coordinator Matthew Brown into a design engineer’s position with the highway department. There was some discussion whether Brown, who was recently appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley to the state board of education, would be able to devote his time to the design position. Brown would replace the former design engineer, who resigned in May.

County Engineer Cal Markert said he was confident that Brown, who has previous professional experience as an engineer, would devote “100 percent” effort to the highway department position.

“I asked him if it could be his number one priority, and I told him we expect him to give 100 percent,” Markert said. “He assured me he would give this job 100 percent effort. I can’t speak to or don’t know about his other stuff, but I expect him to give 100 percent to this job.”

Brown’s $72,488 salary will remain the same, although Commissioner Chris Elliott stressed that the county should not treat him differently than other employees.

“I’m happy for his appointment, but we are also responsible to make sure taxpayers get the the best value for what we pay this position,” Elliott said.

Markert said the county would face similar issues whether Brown stayed with the MPO or moved into the new position.

Burt said ultimately the county should leave the hire up to Markert, who will oversee Brown in the highway department. He also said he was disappointed to read news of an online petition asking Bentley to reconsider Brown’s appointment to the state board of education.

“I believe Matthew Brown when he says he will give 100 percent, and I believe he is a man true to his word,” Burt said. “I realize there are petitions asking governor to withdraw all this and it is disappointing when people react the way they do when they don’t get their way. If the two jobs become a problem, then Cal is the man in charge and I trust him to take care of it.”

BRATS gets a name change, facelift
The county also voted to approve a name change and an updated logo for the Baldwin Rural Transportation System to reflect the growing nature of the county. Transportation director Taylor Rider said the new name, Baldwin Regional Area Transit System, will better represent the county’s transportation arm.

“As the county has continued to grow, some areas on the Eastern Shore, and down around Gulf Shores, Orange Beach to Lillian and Elberta even have become designated as urban areas,” Rider said. “This new name and logo will help move us into the future.”

Commissioner Tucker Dorsey said he was okay with the name change as long as the system emphasizes its service to a largely rural county.

“You don’t have to drive far from the Eastern Shore to be reminded that we still have a lot of rural areas,” Dorsey said. “We need to remember that as we move forward.”