Anniston will spend $50,000 next year on a full-time public relations officer, if the City Council approves the $40 million budget it debated at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

Council members voted 3-2 to keep the full-time PR position in the budget, though one councilman said some of the money would be better used cleaning up the streets.

“We need a better ingress and egress look into Anniston,” Councilman Ben Little said.

The council met at the City Meeting Center Tuesday to put what are likely the finishing touches on the city’s budget for fiscal 2020, which starts in October. In earlier meetings, the council tweaked the city’s contribution to Anniston City Schools, eventually setting aside $50,000 for reading coaches in addition to other contributions.

The original budget included a proposal to hire a full-time PR director, a position the city hasn’t had since 2015. Proponents of the change said the city isn’t getting its story out to the public.

“I don’t think our story’s being told well,” said City Manager Steven Folks. “I think what’s being told is the negatives.”

Little proposed an amendment that would give the city a part-time PR officer for $25,000 per year, with another $25,000 being spent on staff to clean up streets in the city.

“There’s more grass growing on the streets than on the side,” he said. Little also mentioned his wish that the city would by a new PA system for the multimodal transit center, but he never formally proposed that as a motion.

Mayor Jack Draper and Councilman Jay Jenkins asked if money for street cleanup and for a PA system could be found by reprioritizing money in the budget as currently proposed. Folks said it could.

Little’s motion failed 3-2, with Little and Councilman David Reddick passing the only “yes” votes.

Little was the last councilman to propose an amendment to the budget, and the failure of his motion technically cleared the way to a final vote on the budget. No such vote was held Tuesday; Draper later acknowledged that he simply forgot to move for final adoption of the budget.

“I guess I could chalk it up to the concussion, but it was my mistake,” said Draper, who was treated for a concussion after a car accident last month. He said he expected the budget to pass at the next regular meeting in two weeks.

Council members were also set to debate a motion by Little to file suit against the Anniston Housing Authority, though Little later withdrew the motion.

The Housing Authority last year tore down the Cooper Homes housing project, part of a long-term plan to replace several of the city’s aging public housing facilities. Former Cooper residents moved to other housing projects or were offered rental assistance to move into apartments.

Little has complained that the move is depopulating Anniston and his ward as the city prepares for the 2020 census.

“We are moving people out of Anniston and that is going to affect our schools,” he said at a work session before the City Council meeting.

Housing authority director Sonny McMahand last week said that just more than half of former Cooper residents are in other housing projects within the city. Another quarter, roughly, are on rental assistance in various local ZIP codes, all of which include parts of Anniston.

In the work session, Little proposed firing members of the Housing Authority’s board of directors — appointed by the council — who voted for the Cooper demolition plan.

“I too am concerned about the city losing population,” Draper said.

Still, other council members didn’t seem interested in Little’s proposal. The mayor proposed that the council instead meet jointly with the Housing Authority board to discuss the matter.

The council also briefly discussed amending city code to make “tiny homes” legal to build within the city. Councilman David Reddick said houses of less than 900 square feet are nearly impossible to build under current code, even though the city has plenty of small lots and a need for inexpensive housing.

Reddick said the council would have to be careful with the specifications for those houses.

“We don’t want to get into a situation where people go to Home Depot and get one of those storage sheds and call it a home,” he said.

The council took no action on the issue Tuesday.

In other business, the council approved retail beer and wine licenses for Mini Market 3 at 1001 U.S. 431, Quintard Shell at 1731 Quintard Ave. and Annie’s Shell at 720 Quintard Ave. All of the license approvals passed 4-0, with Little abstaining.

 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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