Members of the Anniston City Council want to consider the cost of new City Hall accommodations, but the majority thinks it’s too soon.
Councilman Ben Little added three motions to the voting agenda looking for cost estimates on permanent City Hall solutions, just weeks before the completion of a land swap deal with the U.S. General Services Administration.
One motion asked for a cost estimate for buying the Consolidated Publishing building outright from the company. A wing of the building is being renovated to serve as a temporary City Hall while the GSA builds a new federal courthouse on the Gurnee Avenue block where City Hall still stands. (Offices of The Anniston Star are situated in a different wing.)
The other motions included retaining consultants to figure the cost of renovating the current federal courthouse as a new City Hall location or to estimate the cost of building a brand new city building at one of “various locations” downtown, Little explained.
Little insisted during the meeting — as he has done in many previous meetings — that he was not against the federal courthouse coming to Anniston.
“You, the taxpayer, is going to foot the bill on the stupid deal we’re doing,” Little added.
Later in the meeting, he was the sole vote against declaring the Gurnee Avenue block as surplus to deed it to the GSA.
Little also criticized Mayor Jack Draper’s claims that the $42 million courthouse would have an economic impact on the city and employ more than 300 people. Little said that it wouldn’t “be like a business setting up” in town, or increase sales tax revenue in the city.
“I don’t care what an impact study says,” Little said.
He may have been referencing a Jacksonville State University impact study commissioned earlier this year, which stated that, at least during the construction phase, the courthouse will create 427 jobs in Anniston.
Little also declared a $57,700 transit study to prepare downtown Anniston for traffic at the Freedom Riders National Monument authorized by the city in April to have been a waste of money. Little pointed to the cost of the study — which was paid for from a grant from the National Park Service, at no cost to the city — as a sign of corruption in leadership.
“These people have agendas and I don’t know where they’re coming from,” he said, apparently of other council members.
He said that the GSA exchange was “a bum deal” for Anniston residents, because, he believed, renovating the current courthouse building as a permanent location for city government would be too expensive.
“Citizens will have to pay between $6 and $10 million,” Little said. “No council member here will approve that kind of deal if they were paying out of their own pockets.”
Draper said there was no reason to expect the cost to be that much, noting that the very motion Little presented was to perform an estimate of those costs.
Caleb Campbell, a founder of the business, told The Star this month that the building had been decaying for several years, unlike the Anniston courthouse, which still sees active use. The Gadsden courthouse is now an office building filled almost to capacity, Campbell said.
Jenkins said that he believed the Consolidated Publishing building, located on McClellan Boulevard, miles from downtown Anniston, was never a potential permanent City Hall location.
“I’m not paying somebody to tell me how much it will cost to buy that thing,” Jenkins said. “I don’t have any interest in being there.”
The council voted down that motion, and the motion to estimate the cost of renovating the federal courthouse 3-2. Draper and Jenkins noted that the city already has studies underway to assess the courthouse, and agreed that the property should be studied, but not before those assessments were finished.
Reddick said the decision to wait for those studies to end reminded him of the injustices of the civil rights era.
“People need rights, but not now,” Reddick said.
During the meeting the council also:
— Voted to amend an agreement M2 Connections and Southern Light LLC to extend fiber optic service to the temporary City Hall offices.
— Heard first reading of an amendment to the city’s ambulance service ordinance, which will undo previous changes to the ordinance and definitions of emergency calls.
— Heard first reading for an ordinance restricting the sale of dogs and cats from breeders, instead encouraging businesses that sell pets to stock animals from shelters and animal control facilities.
— Heard first reading for an amendment to an ordinance regarding the seizure and custody of animals. The council heard about the issue of animals being held for evidence in animal abuse cases in a previous meeting; the amendment would allow the animals to be adopted out immediately instead of at the end of a lengthy trial.