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Amherst Town Council appoints former member, vice mayor to fill vacant seat
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Amherst Town Council appoints former member, vice mayor to fill vacant seat

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A familiar face is returning to Amherst Town Council to fill a vacancy.

Andrá Higginbotham, who previously served on council from January 2015 to December 2018, was unanimously appointed Wednesday to the seat left vacant by the resignation of Kenneth Bunch.

Higginbotham served two previous two-year terms and was vice mayor in 2017 and 2018. He opted not to run for a third time in late 2018 prior to council terms becoming four years rather than two.

Owner of Andra’s Car Care on Depot Street, a local minister and 1973 graduate of Amherst County High School, Higginbotham said in a 2018 interview he would consider running again.

The opportunity to rejoin the town’s leadership emerged when Bunch resigned following council’s October meeting. Attempts to reach Bunch for comment on the reason for vacating the seat have been not successful.

Higginbotham, pastor of Everlasting Salvation Church of God, a virtual ministry, said in a previous interview he prays for more growth and industry to come into Amherst and for the town to have good quality of life for residents.

In an interview following his appointment back to council, Higginbotham said he wants to help the town make progress and reach its full potential.

“I just want to see the town become all it can be,” he said. “I want to go in the right direction as far as industry and going the route we need to go.”

Higginbotham said he wants to give back to the town.

It’s very important to me. I grew up in this town. I love this town,” he said.

He added he feels his experience is a benefit.

“I feel like this is a good fit where I can hit the ground running and not slow the council down at all and we can move as a team” going about moving the town forward, Higginbotham said.

Higginbotham interviewed with town officials in a closed session prior to council’s regular meeting Wednesday. Bunch’s term expires at the end of 2024. Town Manager Sara Carter said a special election is planned for the seat in November 2022.

Also during the meeting, council approved of spending $175,000 on designing a wastewater centrifuge, or sludge dewaterer. Council recently agreed to use federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the estimated $2 million project. Carter said the dewaterer would reduce liquid from sludge, allowing water to be treated and discharged and remaining sludge to be disposed of, which she described as the final step in the wastewater treatment process.

The town currently relies on large drying beds, a time- and labor-intensive process, and a centrifuge is much more efficient, according to Carter. The measure benefits the town’s water and wastewaster plants and is outside council’s ability to fund on its own for several years, according to the town’s utilities committee.

The town has $2.2 million overall from ARPA delivered in two rounds with the second coming next year. Expenses must be incurred by Dec. 31, 2024 and fully exhausted by the end of 2026.

Carter said town staff anticipates the sludge dewaterer project may take up all of the town’s remaining ARPA money and more funding may be necessary from the general fund or water and sewer fund in the annual budget, which she added has “healthy reserves.”

“The faster we can move on this, the better off we’ll be with this project,” Carter told council.

In other news:

Council voted 3-1, with Janice Wheaton opposed, to appoint a committee to interview and evaluate two law firms that have responded to a request for proposals in the area of providing legal services for the town government. The contract with local lawyer Tom Berry, who has served in the town attorney role the past 17 years, is ending around the first of the year.

The committee, consisting of Vice Mayor Rachel Carton and Councilman Ken Watts, will bring a recommendation back to council for consideration.

Wheaton opposed because she said as a councilor she feels the whole council should be involved in the interviewing and vetting process for choosing the next town attorney.

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