JACKSONVILLE — The City Council on Monday voted to put $1 million toward a competition gym at the future site of Kitty Stone Elementary School.
“This is something we can invest in our school system, and that’s the same as investing in the city,” council member Jonathan Tompkins said. “There is no line between us and them, we’re the same.”
The money, which will go to the local school board, will be drawn from $14 million the city borrowed in 2013 to pay for a new public safety complex and to make improvements to City Hall.
“We know it was a tough decision,” said Jon Paul Campbell, superintendent of Jacksonville City Schools. “I appreciate the council as a whole for stepping out and doing that for us.”
The five-member council usually approves proposals with a unanimous vote, but was divided on Monday. Councilmen Jerry Parris, Mark Jones and Tompkins voted in favor of the funding measure, while Councilwoman Sandra Sudduth and Councilman Truman Norred voted against it.
In another meeting earlier Monday, Campbell showed the council drawings of the new school and explained that school leaders think the gym will benefit the system.
A competition gym is built to host competitive athletic events, such as basketball games and volleyball tournaments. It will be needed at the site if school officials choose to add a middle school to the campus, which they hope to do eventually, Campbell said.
“We can go ahead and build a competition gym now, and it can be a focal point for the entire school. But it will cost more than what an elementary gym will cost,” Campbell said in an interview Monday. “If we don’t do it now, the option, in this format, will go away forever.”
Campbell said the new gym will be an important first step toward building a new middle school, something the community has discussed for several years. An elementary school gym would cost about $700,000 while a competition gym would cost about $1.7 million, he said.
The two council members who voted against the proposal said they liked the idea, but they were unsure whether the city has the money to pay for it.
“I’m afraid to commit more of our city money,” Norred said.
In 2013, the city borrowed $18 million dollars, with $14 million designated the public safety complex and City Hall, and $4 million going to help pay for school construction.
At the same time, the city initiated a 1-cent sales tax to help pay back the debt.
City leaders gave another $170,000 in December to help pay for the school and donated 30 acres of land valued at $270,000 earlier this year for site of the new school.
Mayor Johnny Smith cautioned council members against giving the schools more money, noting the contributions they have already made, the city’s other financial responsibilities and its limited spending power. Smith estimated the cost of the public safety complex at $11.2 million. He also mentioned costly road improvements that need to be done and changes that must be made to keep up with environmental standards.
“We’re going to have to have the money to do those things,” Smith said.
In other business:
-- Approved a retirement incentive for employees. The incentive would give employees 54 or older a one-time chance to retire and retain city health insurance for five years at their current rate.
The agreement could benefit employees who continue to work only to keep health insurance, and it would benefit the city by giving it a better rate with its health insurance provider, said Jarrod Simmons, city administrator.
-- Approved a resolution amending the city’s pay scale and job descriptions, giving some employees the opportunity to earn more money over the course of their careers. The change will cost the city between $20,000 and $25,000 in the first year, Simmons said.
-- Scheduled a called meeting on Sept. 2 to formally tally the votes from the school board election, during which two people are expected to be elected.
-- Authorized the mayor to enter into an agreement to extend the Anniston-Calhoun County HOME Consortium Agreement, through which local governments obtain federal funding to make residential improvements.
-- Agreed to pay $6,265 to Pinnacle NetworX for 10 printer kits.
-- Agreed to pay $3,029 to Utility Engineering Consultants for cast iron gas main replacement.